The ProsenPeople

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.

Reimagining the Talmud

Friday, March 04, 2011 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Aaron Roller, an editor of Mima’amakim, wrote about the Jewish Austin Powers and the Jewish poetry conspiracy.

I knew something exciting was afoot when an email from the poet Jake Marmer popped up in my inbox with the subject header, “Won’t you be my Tosafot?” Jake Marmer is a longtime editor with Mima’amakim who performs improvisatory jazz poetry with the hippest downtown avant gardists. The Tosfos were a group of Talmudic commentators centered mostly in medieval Provence whose work of dense and brilliant legal exposition is compiled in the margins of the Talmud. As many a teacher of Talmud might ask, “So, nu, what’s the connection?”

Jake had the idea of creating a page of poetry that would mirror the form of the Talmud. The actual words of the Talmud occupy the center of the page. They are flanked on either side by commentaries. On the inside margin is Rashi, the 11th-century giant, and on the outside margin are the Tosafot. Jake offered an initial poem to a bunch of fellow poets to get the ball rolling. Then he stood back and waited for us to create our own, individual “commentaries” to his original work. Then one of the participating poets, Sipai Klein, took the commentaries and synthesized them all into two distinct texts, one to serve as the Rashi and one to serve as the Tosafot. The resulting page appears in the new issue of Mima’amakim.

The poems the resulted manage to capture some of the flavor of the Talmud. Just as Talmud (and the Tosafot commentary) captures a multiplicity of voices and synthesizes them into a single continuous text, Sipai took the different poets, each different styles and approaches, and turned their words into a collaborative text. It’s all so seamless that I don’t even remember which part I wrote anymore.

But, in case one reimagining of the Talmud isn’t enough, Mima’amakim features two. Where Jake and his team of commentators adapted the format of the Talmudic page to a radically different, poetic content, Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli takes the content of the Talmud and brings it into a contemporary format, that of the comic book. Yonah takes the characters and situations of the Talmud out of the ancient Aramaic and put into the most understandable of all literary formats. In so doing, Yonah opens the reader’s eyes to the lyricism, emotion and even the humor of the Talmud. Yonah’s comics render the Talmud and its rabbis as people who are, if not exactly contemporary, then at least familiar and easy to relate to.

While Yonah has a large number of Talmud comics available to view at her website, she was kind enough to let Mima’amakim publish a pair of images in our newest journal. When laying out the journal, it only made sense to have one of the Talmud comics face Jake’s Talmud-inspired poem, creating a two-page spread of artistic creativity inspired by the richness of the Talmud, itself one of the greatest Jewish literary contributions of all time.

The new issue of Mima’amakim is now available. Aaron Roller has been blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Jewish author blogging series.

Samuel Thrope: International Historian of Mystery

Wednesday, March 02, 2011 | Permalink

On Monday, Aaron Roller, an editor of Mima’amakim, wrote about the Jewish poetry conspiracy.

Of all the poets whose work I’ve come across while reviewing submissions for Mima’amakim, Samuel Thrope is probably the most mysterious. I don’t know Samuel, though I hope our paths will cross some day soon. For the past two years,Mima’amakim has published poems by Thrope that encompass the unpredictable sweep of the Jewish past, while playing some serious postmodern tricks.

Last year, Thrope submitted a short, translated excerpt from the “Dabest?n-e Maz?heb” or “School of Religious Doctrines,” a 17th-century book that documents and compares Asian religions. The portion of the Dabest?n that pertains to Judaism was taken from the anonymous author’s encounter with a Jewish convert to Islam named Sarmad. Sarmad, himself a poet, traveled to India, whereupon he fell in love with a Hindu boy and renounced everything, becoming a wandering ascetic.

When I first encountered Thrope’s translation, the notion of a gay Jewish poet who becomes Muslim and falls for a Hindu in the 17th century seemed too outlandish to be true and I suspected that Thrope was some kind of brilliant academic prankster, fabricating an obscure figure and “translating” a fake text. A bit of research, however, showed that Thrope was not kidding around; Sarmad was real and Thrope is a keen student of Jewish history (a PhD candidate at Berkeley, actually) illuminating the breadth and strangeness of the Jewish past.

This year, my suspicions from a year ago proved correct (at least I think so). The newest issue of Mima’amakim features a submission from Thrope entitled “Four Geniza Fragents: A Poem.”

Purportedly a collection of fragments from some lost Jewish texts, Thrope formatted his submission to look like the scholarly translation of a long lost and partially decayed old book, with each line numbered and brackets marking where indiscernible words break up the text.

The fragments deal with a supposed meeting between the author and some alleged angels. The text is full of holes but the angels seem to offer a utopian vision, reveal that Moses made a mistake and foretell of an impending apocalypse. After learning the extent of Thrope’s ability as a researcher, I would have accepted it and believed that Thrope has uncovered another extremely fantastic and obscure text. Except that the second of the four geniza fragments quotes a verse from William Butler Yeats’ famous poem “The Second Coming.” The allusion both tips Thrope’s hand and helps enforce the tone of apocalyptic dread, which is similar to Yeats.

With Thrope’s writing then, you never know what you’re reading, whether the text is a discovery from the past or an original creation, unless, that is, Thrope lets you know with a sly, well placed reference.

To read “Four Geniza Fragments,” click here, or get the new issue of Mima’amakim.

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

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.