The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: Jane Austen Cover to Cover

Friday, September 19, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

There’s nothing so thrilling as finding an intriguing edition of a book you love from who-knows-when to take home with you and place next to the other seven copies of The Master and Margarita (my personal bibliophilic collectible of choice) on the shelf.

(Moving past Russian literature of varying translation and censorship,) I don’t think I’ve ever entered a used book store without taking at least a glance at their Jane Austen stockpile. Just to see what’s there—it’s not like I don’t already possess multiple copies of each novel across bookshelves and storage boxes in four different states. So imagine my delight at discovering Quirk Books’ forthcoming visual book, Jane Austen from Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers!

“The covers gathered in this volume represent two hundred years of publication, interpretation, marketing, and misapprehensions of Jane Austen’s works, but underneath the variety of images one thing remains the same: the text that left the pen of a woman in Hampshire, England, two centuries ago,” author and Austenblog editrix Margaret C. Sullivan observes in her introduction to Cover to Cover. “No matter how beautiful, tacky, infuriating, beguiling, silly, or strange the packaging may be, the story inside never changes.”

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Interview: Yael Unterman

Thursday, September 18, 2014 | Permalink

by Beth Kissileff

One Friday afternoon, Yael Unterman donned her funkiest pair of stockings ("tights" to American English speakers) and began her walk to synagogue in her Katamon section of Jerusalem. She thought “what is the worst that could happen?” about being seen on the street in such garish legwear—but she did not reckon on the producers of the hit Israeli TV show Srugim deciding to film Jerusalemites on their Friday afternoon walk to shul that day. She can still be seen in the background.

Just as interesting and delightful things happen to this writer, so too with the characters in her new short story collection, The Hidden of Things: Twelve Stories of Love and Longing. These linked stories are about characters who are the "Anglo" (English-speaking) analogue of the Srugim, living in Katamon, davening at the socially popular synagogues Yakar and Ohel Nechama, and discovering the perils and pleasures of the single life in Jerusalem. What distinguishes Unterman's book from a Bridget Jones type of chick lit is the focus of her characters—like the characters in Srugim—on Jewish life and texts. Unterman is no stranger to the world of Torah study—her previous book was a biography of female Torah scholar Nechama Leibowitz,, which was a Finalist for the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. In addition to her literary pursuits, Unterman teaches and lectures and leads Bibliodrama workshops for people of all backgrounds.

Beth Kissileff spoke to Yael Unterman by Skype.

Beth Kissileff: What is your background?

Yael Unterman: To some degree I grew up between at least two worlds. My dad is an open-minded Orthodox rabbi, and I was in Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist youth group. On the other hand, I attended a Litvish Haredi school with classmates hailing from families of seventeen children, most of whom went on to Gateshead, an ultra-Orthodox girls’ seminary in England, though I personally stayed on to take A levels and O levels, the university preparatory tests.

No one explained to me how to live with all these contradictions; it took many years of struggle to resolve them. One result, however, is that I can appreciate people coming from different worlds, and understand people ranging from secular to ultra-Orthodox, and I draw on that in my writing. It is helpful to have resources to draw on, to be more accurate—to know people, not just invent them.

BK: I am curious about the connection between fiction and non-fiction, since your first book was a biography and your second a short story collection.

YU: I am aware that they are extremely different genres. I’m moving from left brain to right brain territory. I wrote my first work of fiction when I was ten, and loved novels growing up. But then from 18-28, I was exclusively in the world of Torah learning, the world of ideas. Suddenly, around 28, a yearning to return to fiction hit me very strongly.

Today, fiction is my preferred reading material and writing it is a joy and a pleasure. Working on the Nechama Leibowitz biography was an incredible experience, and I learned much and was inspired, but there was a limit to how creative I could be.

It is fair to say I love fiction; reading a good book can truly brighten my week. Books make a tremendous difference.

BK: I’m interested in the fact that you are living in Israel and writing in English. Are there others doing this, a community of writers who write in English in Israel?

YU: Yes, there is a writing program at Bar Ilan University in English which I attended a decade ago and which has continued to develop ever since. All of this sprang up from the vision of Shaindy Rudoff, a strong and visionary woman, who sadly passed away in my second year in the program, in 2006. It is amazing what one person can do. My Nehama Leibowitz biography illustrates that—the powerful effect one determined individual can have.

BK: What was your vision for this book? What did you hope to accomplish for readers?

YU: My vision for my book is to open this world of ”singles not by choice” to a wider audience, to show them that this is what people are going through. I’m not setting myself up as an expert on singles, I have not written a doctorate on it. Rather, my purpose was to reflect the experience for people who aren't single, who may have thought they understood, so that they will close the book saying “oh right, oh I see now," and have gained a bit more empathy, more understanding of this painful phenomenon. I’m aiming toward empathy, not condescension or pity. It’s a nuanced message.

I’ll add that the book is not only about singles, but also about religious journeyers, with a former rock star who becomes super religious, and a young confused Hasid who drops religion in Manhattan. Bottom line, the book is about seekers—seekers of love, of God, of clarity. They are all very human.

Beth Kissileff is the editor of Reading Genesis (Continuum Books, 2014) an anthology of academic writing about Genesis. Her novel Questioning Return is under review for publication and she is writing a second novel and volume of short stories. She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Carleton College, the University of Minnesota, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College.

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Internal Dialogue: Fall 2014 Author Interviews

Thursday, September 18, 2014 | Permalink

Gearing up for the next issue of Jewish Book World, the Jewish Book Council has been churning out author interviews with increased voracity over the past few weeks—and we’re delighted to see we’re not the only ones!

This week NBC’s Peter Alexander interviewed his sister Rebecca, who is a 2014-2015 JBC Network author touring with her memoir, Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found. Diagnosed at age thirteen with Usher Syndrome type 3, a rare genetic disorder that deteriorates vision and hearing, Rebecca has remained upbeat and determined to live life the fullest over the past 15 years. In her book and in the interview she shares her belief that with the worsening of her senses her life has improved, that she is happier now than she was before her diagnosis. A practicing psychotherapist and an “extreme athlete” who did a full workout in her hospital gown in the minutes before undergoing surgery for cochlear implants, Rebecca’s story and outlook is tremendously inspiring, and her conversation with her brother is extraordinarily heartfelt.

More specific to the JBC Network program, JCC Greenwich has published an entire series of interviews with the authors it is bringing to its community over the coming months. The series is ingenious promotion for the organization’s book events; their program director, Laura Blum, gives a clear explanation of what the author’s live presentation will entail ahead of the transcribed discussion, in which she truly brings out the best of these authors:

Joshua Safran Discusses Chaotic Boyhood and Ongoing Advocacy for Domestic Violence Survivors

You say your mother was a free spirit, but she was also hostage to fantasy. Why wasn't she more concerned about the impact she was having on the two of you, and how did she reconcile her enslavement to Leopoldo?

To some degree my mother and I were both very encumbered spirits. On one hand my mother would dance around in the woods and celebrate the rising moon, but on the other hand she'd fret that her rising moon ceremony is exploitative of a Native American ritual that she doesn't have the privilege of using. She has this passionate striving, yet this very worldly concern about the impact she's having on real or theoretical people.

Part of the book is a cautionary tale in the unintended consequence of being a free spirit. When you have no rules, there's a great amount of freedom, but you also expose yourself to the Hobbsian state of nature in which those who are nasty and brutish can take advantage of you. That's exactly what happened with Leopoldo, who on the one hand was a shaman, a poet and a healer, and he appeared to fit in with my mother's free-spirited world view, but by right of being a free spirit, he was able to be a tyrant. One of the publishers described the book as "the dark side of the Age of Aquarius."

Knish: Laura Silver Goes In Search of the Jewish Soul Food

As your readers will learn, the K-N-S triradical rears up in Hebrew, meaning "to assemble," "to come in." They'll also come across Isaac Bashevis Singer's description of the knish as "the stuff of longing." In what way does the knish in-gather family and community around a common yearning for the past?

In those books by Jack Finney—Time and Again, From Time to Time— he talks about the Brooklyn Bridge and the Dakota as these architectural gateways to another time because they're the same now as they were then. Something about the knish is transportative too. It's not a uniquely Jewish tendency to cleave to the past, but it might be something we'd be advised to do a little differently. There's so much holding on; I wonder if there's a way to preserve some aspects but still move forward. I've heard so many say, "You can't get a good knish anymore!" And I started saying, "Well, what if you make your own?" They'd be like, "Oh, we don't want to do that." Well, how much do people want to contribute to the future of what Jewishness is?

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: A Conversation with Dr. Joel Hoffman

How do inconsistencies in the unpublished scriptures strengthen or weaken the belief that the Bible is of divine origin?

There's a phenomenon of professional atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, who point out how absurd the Bible is. Most of them haven't understood it. But if you don't think that the Bible is connected to God, then you have a real problem, because you have to explain why, of all the texts from antiquity, this one is not only still around but so widely read. The minute you say that theBible is no different from, say, Aesop's Fables, you have to explain why it is that the Bible has stretched to every corner of the Earth and Aesop's Fables hasn't. If you think it's about a connection to God, at least you're starting out with an answer. If you don't believe it has to do with God, you have to ask yourself: what is it about these texts that made them endure?

I don't think anyone has the right to say they're an expert in what God does or doesn't touch: that's hubris. But one of the reasons I like the texts from the cutting room floor as well as the Bible is that I think these show remarkable insight into the human condition. These texts -- more than Aristotle and more than Plato and more than Ovid -- explain what it's like to be alive.

Ayelet Waldman Unlocks the Secrets of Love & Treasure

An alternative title to Love & Treasure could be Indifference & Property. In a particularly pungent passage, you describe a client of Amitai's firm whose only connection to a diamond brooch that he "had never set eyes on" from a dead relative "he'd never even known existed" was the windfall check he received. What resonated for you about attachment to, or detachment from, stuff?

I have these silverplated candlesticks that I inherited from my great-grandmother. They're my most prized possession. They're objectively hideously ugly. They aren't worth very much because most of the silver plating has rubbed away, but they're valuable to me because of the connection. I saw an identical pair of candlesticks when I visited Yad Vashem this spring. They were in a pile of objects that belonged to a group of Polish Jews who had been murdered. They had value only as part of this exhibition, for the loss they evoked. My great-grandmother's candlesticks had value in the sense of family that they evoke. Absent that human element and connection, it's a trusim to say that property has no meaning. I was thinking of this notion of treasure and the valuelessness of property as opposed to the value of life.

Nomi Eve Paints a Picture of Yemenite Jewry in Henna House

How did you come to incorporate scenes of magical realism in which characters entertain contradictory visions?

As a writer, I grew up on the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and other Latin American writers, and I have magical realism in my heart. What's real? What's folkloric? Magical realism allows you to explore this. In reading folktales of the Yemenite Jewish community from the North, I felt that those stories had a fairytale quality to them that seemed to naturally go with my impulse toward magical realism. Magical realism is the realm of metaphor: this pain is sweet; this love is taking flight. I see images in my head: "Maybe a bird pecked on her ear." But they're not embellishments; they're the heart of the matter.

Annabelle Gurwitch to Make an Effort in Greenwich

In this latest volume, you take us from crushing on an Apple Genius Bar techie to helping a friend die to "sandwiching" between your son and your parents. How do you balance comedy with solemnity?

The thing that attracts me to movies, to books, to any kind of art is the fine line between comedy and tragedy. I wasn't kidding when I wrote in the book that after my mom's mastectomy, I asked her doctor why they didn't make breast implants for people her age if they could make a Tempur-Pedic. Why does she have to have a breast implant that's going to make it look like she has a 20-year-old breast? Can't they figure that out? It's so dark. We needed that laughter.

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My Parents’ Legacy, My Library, and the Mel Rosen Biography

Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Craig Darch wrote about how he became interested in writing the Mel Rosen biography. He is the author of From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen  and has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

I graduated from high school in 1967 and got a gift from my mother and father for the accomplishment. It was Zalman Shazar’s book, Morning Stars, published by the Jewish Publication Society. Shazer, born in the Belorussian town of Mir in 1889, was eventually elected Israel’s third President. I didn’t read Morning Stars, however. I just put it with my other books. I think back then my personal library had maybe twenty or thirty 30 books, mostly sports and Jewish books.

In 1982 I completed a doctorate in special education from the University of Oregon. My wife Gabi, our son Eric, and I drove across the country to my parents’ house in Wisconsin. Once there I picked up some of my belongings to bring to our rented house in Auburn, Alabama, including books that I stored in their basement. Among those books was the still unread Morning Stars. Once I got to Auburn for my first university teaching position, I put my books neatly on my bookshelf. And there they sat.

One night I happened to pick up Zalman’s book of reminiscences about his childhood in Steibtz and began reading them. It had been 15 years since my parents had given me the book as a high school graduation gift. All the stories were good, but one stood out: “Father’s Library.” In this story Shazar lovingly tells of his father’s books and how each spring he would help him take the books and put them in the yard for a dusting off and an airing. It is a wonderful story about how books played such an important role in his life.

When I was writing From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen I started my research by reading books from my personal library. I have a two thousand Jewish book collection. It is always a treat to use my library for research. I have often thought of Shazar’s story about his father’s library, and each time I use my library Shazar’s story comes to mind, and I think of how I developed a love for books and reading.

Like Shazar, my interest in books came from watching my father and mother reading Jewish books. I remember my father reading Harold Ribalow’s The Jew in American Sports. In fact, it is my father’s copy that sits on a shelf in my library. The famous Jewish boxer Barney Ross wrote the preface to the book. Another of my father’s books that can be found in my library is Robert Slater’s comprehensive volume, Great Jews in Sports. This book was a great help to me writing the Rosen biography as well and continues to sit on a shelf in my library. The forward to this volume was written by former Boston Celtics basketball coach Red Auerbach. Both of these classics are must-reading for anyone interested in Jews and sports.

I also remember seeing both my mother and father reading Irving Howe’s book, World of Our Fathers. They shared the volume. One night it would be my father with the volume, and the next night the book would be in the hands of my mother. The image of them sharing the book has never faded from my usually porous memory. Their book also sits on a shelf in my library. When I took it from its place to use as a resource for writing the Rosen biography, I opened the cover of the book and immediately noticed an inscription I had not seen before. In my mother’s beautiful handwriting the simple inscription read: “Dorothy and Will.” Yes that is how I always think of them, their love of books and the love they shared; Dorothy and Will.

Craig Darch is the Humana-Sherman-Germany Distinguished Professor of Special Education at Auburn University.

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Discovering Dolph Schayes

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | Permalink

Dolph Grundman is the author of Jim Pollard: The Kangaroo Kid, The Golden Age of Amateur Basketball: The AAU Tournament, 1921-1968, and, most recently, Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball. He is blogging here today for the Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

How did a historian who grew up on Chicago's south side wind up writing a biography of Dolph Schayes, the Hall of Fame basketball player for the Syracuse Nationals? Let me take you back to 1954, my freshman year at Chicago's Bowen High School. I was thirteen years old and my parents had named me Adolph after my grandfather who had left Germany in the 1890s. My mother was a Polish-American and we lived in a predominantly Polish neighborhood. As you can imagine Adolph was not a very popularly name in my community and drew a little unwanted attention. In 1954 I was an aspiring basketball player and looking for anybody to identify with named Adolph. There was Adolph Rupp the legendary coach of Kentucky but he was not a player. In 1954 the NBA was struggling to find an identity and some of its games were televised on the weekends. It was then that I discovered Dolph Schayes the star of the Syracuse Nationals. He possessed a great two-handed set shot which was still a popular shot utilized by players of all ages in the 1950s. Dolph was a player with whom I could identify.

After playing basketball at Bowen, I played four more years at Albion College. My first coach started calling me Dolph which has stuck ever since. Eventually I completed a doctoral degree in history and wound up teaching at Metropolitan State University in Denver. One of the courses I created was a study of Sports in America. Between 1935 and 1968 one of the biggest sports events in Denver was the National Amateur Athletic Union's Basketball Tournament. Beginning in 1936 the winner and second place team would play in a tournament that would determine the players and coaches of the United States Olympic team. In 1948 I discovered that Schayes played in the Olympic Trials held at Madison Square Garden for New York University. Although Dolph did not make the Olympic team, he was among the alternates.

My next encounter with Dolph Schayes came in the course of doing a biography of Jim Pollard, a Hall of Fame player with the Minneapolis Lakers, professional basketball's first dynasty. In 1950 and 1954 the Lakers captured the NBA title by defeating the Nationals. By 1954 Schayes had established himself as an NBA star. By 2009 when I did a book signing at the Naismith Hall of Fame, there still was no biography of Dolph Schayes. We met for the first time in 2009, and after visiting him in Syracuse, agreed to work on a book. Five years later Syracuse University is about to release Dolph Schayes and the Rise of Professional Basketball. I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Dolph Grundman is professor of history at Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado.

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Interview: David Wolpe

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | Permalink

by Beth Kissileff

Beth Kissileff recently spoke with David Wolpe about his newest book, David: The Divided Heart, published by Yale University Press

At one point during our phone interview, I asked Rabbi David Wolpe, author of a new book on King David, about why he wrote on the famously lustful Israelite king. He replied that he told his editor not to worry about the timeliness of the book: there would be a political scandal along the lines of the David and Bathsheba story at some point when his book was coming out. In fact, he was so confident of it, he would write the editorial now! The timelessness of human foibles when power is gained,  coupled with the extraordinary human ability to grow and change and write about it as King David did in the Psalms, personal poetry and prayer traditionally attributed to him, is the subject of Wolpe’s latest book, David: The Divided Heart, the newest volume in the Jewish Lives series by Yale University Press.

Wolpe is the author of seven previous books, all like this one, in which he attempts to engage with serious Jewish ideas for a general audience. He is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, and known by many for his huge Facebook and Twitter followings, as well as holding the accolade of being many years on the influential rabbi list that had been compiled by Newsweek, hitting the top slot in 2012. In our interview, he spoke of how he brought his work as a rabbi to his telling of David’s story, relating his ability to understand people’s lives at different ages and see not only the effect of parents on children, but as they age, children on their parents. The book comes from a deeply personal place too, dedicated to his uncle David, after whom he is named, the man who raised his father (also a rabbi, Gerald Wolpe z”l) after his father’s own father passed away at a young age. When David Wolpe graduated high school, he writes in the book’s introduction, his father inscribed his yearbook with a pastiche of ideas about his Biblical namesake. He writes that although his father did not quote any particular verse he conveyed an “essential message” about the David who “sang many songs.”

It is fitting that the character of David, who encompasses both the national aspirations of the Jewish people as well as his own personal family struggles, has these different aspects, both public and private, for the writer as well. Here are some highlights of Jewish Book Council's phone conversation with this most articulate rabbi.

Beth Kissileff: You say in the book that in the rabbinic text Pesikta DeRav Kahana, the rabbis confessed, “We are unable to make sense of David’s character”. If even they are unable to, what got you to write this book?

David Wolpe: Because he was so intriguing. I was also trying to unravel the central mystery: Why does David get to be the most important character, the ancestor of the Messiah?

In one sense, the tradition is split between David and Moses. We have a good idea of the legacy of Moses, but know less about David, even though the Bible tells us more about the character. The David stories feel historical, they don’t feel like myth. So much apologizing for David only makes sense if there are people around attacking him.

For me at least, David is the most intriguing character.

BK: How did you decide to divide up the chapters and create the themes for each of them? Each chapter is a role: Fugitive, King, Sinner, Father, Caretaker, and The Once and Future King.

DW: Because as I read through it, I thought it is such a big, messy,F wonderful story that it will help the reader to have some thematic breakdown, as opposed to running through the narrative.

I thought of David the way I think of someone when I conduct a funeral. This is the same person, but with lots of different roles. You hear from the spouse, the kids, they can be a lot of different things to different people in their lives. That’s what David was.

BK: Why does David speak to modern Jews?

DW: He speaks to modern Jews about the state and all the contradictions of the state. War and savagery and plotting and manipulation and all of that. But at same time, he is a central religious figure. He is credited with writing the only personal prayers in the Bible, the Psalms. If you are looking for a book to express the individual human soul, you have only the Psalms in the Bible.

His legacy endures – Jerusalem is celebrating the 3000th year as the City of David.

And finally and most powerfully, David is a deeply flawed figure who is still a hero. That idea, that we don’t think a person can be great and flawless, is something we struggle with every single day. There will soon be a David and Bathsheba scandal – I should write the editorial now! He is an exquisitely relevant as well as fascinating character.

BK: What are the top three books to read to learn more about the David story?

DW: If they want a fuller account, read Samuel I and II. I think Jonathan Kirsch’s book King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel is fuller and easily read. Then, it depends how serious you want to be. The most comprehensive and learned book is Bible scholar Baruch Halpern’s David’s Secret Demons. He deals with the archaeology, but tells you where to skip if you don’t want all the detail. An effective case against David is Stephen Mazckenzie, King David: A Biography.

Beth Kissileff is the editor of Reading Genesis (Continuum Books, 2014) an anthology of academic writing about Genesis. Her novel Questioning Return is under review for publication and she is writing a second novel and volume of short stories. She has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, Carleton College, the University of Minnesota, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College.

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How I Got Interested in Writing the Mel Rosen Biography

Monday, September 15, 2014 | Permalink

Craig Darch is author of From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

My interest in writing the Mel Rosen story has its roots in South Bend Indiana, where I grew up. My father and mother (actually my entire family) were avid sports fans and always talked about Jewish athletes. In their minds, if an athlete was Jewish, then his or her achievement was even more noteworthy, something to talk about and, as Jews, something to be proud of, because American Jews are always looking for Jewish sports heroes.

I vividly remember family dinners where we discussed (or argued about) the merits of a Jewish athlete. I remember my dad and his cousin Gene wistfully describing the pugilistic exploits of Benny Leonard, in their opinion the greatest of all the great Jewish fighters during the 1920s and 1930s. I can remember sitting around the television when I was about 12 years old with my brothers Mike and Lance and my dad watching basketball player Dolph Schayes, one of the few Jewish players in the National Basketball Association, playing for the Syracuse Nationals. Watching him play made the game exciting. Schayes was a warrior and fierce competitor: from February 1952 to December 1961 he played in 764 straight games. Our thinking at that time was, if Dolph Schayes could be a basketball star, then why couldn’t we? I also remember when Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodger’s pitcher and Hall of Famer, and one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball history, elected not to pitch the opening game of the Dodger and Minnesota Twins world series in 1965 because it fell on Yom Kippur. And I remember my family’s pride surrounding his decision not to pitch. It was listening to the stories of Jewish athletes when I was a kid that boosted my life-long interest in Jewish sports stories.

I also remember the morning when I decided to write about Mel Rosen. Here’s the story. I am an avid jogger, and four years ago I was running my typical route on Auburn University’s campus. It was early, about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I was running near Memorial Coliseum. From a distance I saw a Greyhound bus parked next to the coliseum. The inside of the bus was lit up. The bus seemed to glow in the darkness. Curious I ran towards it. As I got closer I noticed a lone figure sitting in the front seat. It was Mel Rosen, then the retired head coach of Auburn’s track and field team, who was serving as an unpaid assistant coach. There was no one else in the bus, just Rosen, waiting to leave for a track meet. I thought to myself, how is it that an 82-year-old unpaid assistant coach can be so enthusiastic about his sport that he beats everyone to the bus at four in the morning. The look on his face seemed to say, I have traveled a long way from Brooklyn and do I have stories to tell! It was then, at that instant, I knew I had to write, From Brooklyn to the Olympics: The Hall of Fame Career of Auburn University Track Coach Mel Rosen. I’m grateful I took that jog.

Craig Darch is the Humana-Sherman-Germany Distinguished Professor of Special Education at Auburn University.

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Jewish Book Carnival: September 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Hosting an early fall Jewish Book Carnival is particularly exciting, as we get to provide you with lots of interesting reads to munch on right before the holidays! In case you're new here, the Jewish Book Carnival is a monthly roundup of some of the great reviews, interviews, and articles about Jewish books and authors from around the web. Find out more information about the series here.

Before we share our colleagues' links, JBC has a few of its own offerings for this month's Carnival:

And now we release you into the hands of our fellow Jewish literary bloggers:

Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah focused recently on the Holocaust. She interviewed children's book writer Kathy Kacer, author of Shanghai Escape and the Magician of Auschwitz. She also interviewed The Whispering Town's author Jennifer Elvgren and illustrator Fabio Santomauro.

In September, Jill at Rhapsody in Books reviewed The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman. This is ultimately a love story that takes place in Italy during World War II, providing a poignant glimpse of what life was like for both Jews and non-Jews in Fascist Italy.

Three delightful links from Behrman House: Robyn Fantich’s Jewish Values Challenge card set review was featured in The Bookjed Digest from The Lookstein Center for Jewish Education. Their favorite videos: Make Prayers by making music can be found here. And from the Behrman House Blog: 8 Icebreakers for the New School Year.

Among the recent treats on Erika Dreifus's My Machberet: a high-schooler's dispatch from the Great Jewish Books Summer Program, Mark Shechner's review of David Shrayer-Petrov's Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories, and a spotlight on Barbara Krasner's new picture book about Golda Meir.

Heidi Estrin at The Book of Life podcast interviews author Jacqueline Jules and illustrator Durga Yael Bernhard creators of the picture book Never Say a Mean Word Again. The story takes place in medieval Spain in the Muslim city of Granada and was inspired by a legend about how the Jewish royal advisor Samuel Ha-Nagid "tore out" a man's angry tongue and gave him a kind one instead. It is a powerful story of conflict resolution, as relevant today as it was centuries ago, and very timely for the High Holidays.

Chaya Rosen, of Art and Writings of Destruction and Repair, discusses writing as a tool of self-transformation with Yael Shahar, the author of A Damaged Mirror. When is story-telling redemptive? What do names have to do with teshuvah—with returning to our better selves? And how does writing bring out the deeper answers to the questions we can't consciously ask?

Michael Felsen shares his article, "A Philosopher’s Take on Jewish History — For Teenagers," published over at The Times of Israel.

Kathe Pinchuck shares two links with us this month:

Find links to the JBC's reviews of titles mentioned in this month's Jewish Book Carnival posts below:

What’s Your Intention?

Sunday, September 14, 2014 | Permalink

The Jewish Book Council is delighted to launch a new blog series in partnership with Ask Big Questions, an initiative out of Hillel International aimed at getting people to talk about issues of heart, soul and community. Each month, Ask Big Questions will feature a JBC author on their blog, shared here on the JBC ProsenPeople blog page, and in campus programming reaching over 10,000 college and graduate students.

Lodro Rinzler is a 2013-2014 JBC Network author and a contributing columnist for such publications as The Huffington Post and Marie Claire. The former director of the Boston Shambhala Center, Rinzler teaches and lectures throughout North America.

Technology is a tool, like a hammer. You can use a hammer in a positive way, placing a nail in a wall and hanging beautiful art, or in a negative way, bashing someone’s head in. The hammer itself is not good or bad, it is our intention in using it that makes it so. The same can be said for technology.

Connecting to others through technology can be an overwhelmingly positive thing. Take, for example, protestors tweeting injustices half a world away, such that news channels can follow up in order to receive on-the-ground updates. I teach meditation classes, and thanks to video sharing technology, I can offer that tool for peace and presence to thousands of people I would not have access to if I was limited to meeting with everyone in-person. Perhaps more poignantly, I recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post detailing my experience with depression and suicide that went viral, leading to many many people sharing their own stories and finding support in appropriate channels.

On the flip side, technology can be used in a hurtful manner. Take the new ways of cyber-bullying that we did not have to deal with a generation ago. Rumors have always been around but now we can propagate them anonymously and in ways that millions can read. Plus, the Internet never sleeps so we can procrastinate nonstop. Whether it’s Wikipedia, Facebook, or online shopping, we all have some way that we prefer to avoid our work or our present reality.

In my work as a meditation teacher I always begin by asking people what their intention is for meditating. Meditation is hard and people tend to get disheartened unless they are very clear about why they want to do it. And I’m a firm believer that in all of our activity we always have either a conscious or unconscious intention. One leads us to a joyful existence, the other leads to trouble.

I’ll give you an example. You might want to go out with friends on a Saturday night. Also, you might drink, and likely dance and/or talk to members of the sex you’re attracted to and maybe even make out or something. That’s cool. Really. I’m all for it, if you consciously intend to do those things, after actual reflection.

More often than not we go out with friends, launch into a new relationship, or jump ship from one job to another without a clear understanding of why we’re doing what we’re doing. We never pause and develop a conscious intention and, as a result, things tend to get messy down the road.

To return to our example you could have had a rough week and you go out straight from work. No time to pause and reflect, and try to live with a conscious intention. So you drink too much to forget the jerks you work with, then because you drink too much you end up tripping over yourself while dancing, making a fool of yourself around people you want to make out with, and continue to drink to avoid dealing with any of these rough emotions. You end up sick and regretting the whole experience.

Let’s step back and do the same scenario but with a conscious intention. You leave work but you decide to take a respite first. You go for a walk or sit in a park. You take some time and reflect on your job, allow for the transition from work to fun happen, and then contemplate, “What is my intention for tonight?” After a few minutes of returning to that question you realize that you just want to connect with the friends you’re going to see because you don’t get to see them enough. You head out and instead of getting wasted you enjoy a few drinks with them, relax together, and reconnect. Whether you dance or meet other people or not it’s all okay because you’re living in line with your conscious intention.

When you live your life in line with conscious intentions, as opposed to unconscious ones, you live a happier, more connected life overall. To return to our discussion about technology, you can catch yourself when you’re about to click tabs over to spend some time on Facebook and ask yourself, “What’s my intention here?” Have you been meaning to check out photos of your friend’s wedding? Or are you just looking to mindlessly distract yourself? The more we ask ourselves why we do what we do, the more we can put technology to use in ways that help us make a positive difference in the world.

If we can learn to be very conscious with our intention about why and how we engage our technology, as well as the rest of our life, the ramifications are infinite.

Lodro Rinzler is the author of the bestselling The Buddha Walks into a Bar . . ., the award-winning Walk Like a Buddha, and the new books The Buddha Walks into the Office: A Guide to Livelihood for a New Generation and Sit Like a Buddha: A Pocket Guide to Meditation. His columns appear regularly in The Huffington Post and Marie Claire, and he has been featured in numerous publications, including Bloomberg Businessweek, Real Simple, Tricycle and the Shambhala Sun. He is the founder of the Institute for Compassionate Leadership, a leadership training and job placement organization.

The ProsenPshat: Week of September 8th

Saturday, September 13, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

Between National Suicide Prevention Week and the thirteenth anniversary of September 11th, it was a somber week, but a reflective one. The Jewish Book Council examined how suicide affects Jewish families, communities, and the writers who depict them, and how 9/11 has become rooted in our memory—and our literature. We also commemorated the promulgation of the Statute of Kalisz, which granted Jews safety and autonomy in medieval Poland, with a Poland & Polish Jewry reading list—a predictably mixed collection of uplifting tales and tragic stories, memoirs, and history.


To lighten things up, 2014-2015 JBC Network author and Visiting Scribe Stuart Rojstaczer, author of The Mathematician’s Shiva, offered two humorous and introspective compositions, musing over what makes him a Jewish writer—a ponderance prompted by a joke about his cat—and chuckling over an “imagined” one-act play featuring his mother and his manuscript.

Rachel: This novel, The Mathematician’s Shiva. I have a problem with this book. With the main character in fact. A big problem.

Stuart: And what is it?

Rachel: The character, Rachela Karnokovitch. It’s me. It’s a copy of me. A carbon copy. And you’ve killed her off. Dead from cancer. Do I look dead to you?

Stuart: It’s not you, Mom. The character is 100 percent made up. Honest.

Rachel: Oh really. It isn’t me. Tun nicht zan a ligner, Shtulelah. Ich bin don mameh, nicht a lalka un a kop. (Don’t think you can lie to me, Stuart. I’m your mother, not a bimbo.)

Our hearts were also warmed by another conversation between parent and child in the conclusion to Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman’s interview of Joel M. Hoffman, author of The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor. Following up a sophisticated and accessible discussion of the Biblical canon and the implications of the texts that missed the cut, father and son shared a sweet moment of mutual pride and admiration—broadcast to all our readers!

LAH: How does this book relate to your translation work?

JMH: As I was growing up, you taught me by personal example to appre­ciate my heritage and to pursue learning. My translation work is driven by a desire to use that learning to show people the original beauty of the Bible.This is too.

LAH: You have no idea how proud I am of you as your father. I re­member how you used to help me copy-edit my books when you were young. Now you’re writing your own. It’s a joy to see.

JMH: That’s not a question.

LAH: No, it’s not. I get to do that. I’m your father.

JMH: I love you, Dad.

Our own Carol Kaufman, editor of Jewish Book World magazine, interviewed New York Times journalist Joseph Berger about his new book, The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America. Joe shared his perspective on the American Hasidism after thirty years of reporting from their communities, and where he thinks it may be heading.

With their large families, Hasidim are growing at a breathtaking rate and as a result Orthodox Jews could become a majority of Jews in New York in 20 years, changing the community’s liberal, cosmopolitan profile. Despite the attention they get, defectors are still a tiny slice of the Hasidic population. The way of life is so all-encompassing that it is difficult for skeptics to leave. The Internet’s subversive impact, however, may upset such calculations.

Fictional journalist Rebekah Roberts also reports form the Hasidic world in Julia Dahl’s crime novel Invisible City, discovering what might be her own mother’s past as she follows the clues surrounding the gruesome murder of an anonymous victim in a Brooklyn scrap yard.

It was about shared experience, but also about shared mythology… The fear of being a Jew. The cultural baggage, the long legacy of hate and murder and discrimination. The rootlessness, the desperate need for self-preservation, and of course, I don’t really know. I only know the baggage of being me. But part of it, I think now, is being a Jew.

The book not to miss from this week: Oscar Mandel’s Otherwise Fables dazzled its reviewer—and her kids! Mandel’s timeless, original tales delight without dumbing down, delving into the world of fantasy without losing the reader along the way.

Unlike any other book that I have reviewed for Jewish Book World, when I received Oscar Mandel’s Otherwise Fables, my young kids peered over my shoulder and asked what I was reading. We then took turns reading aloud some of the forty-six bite-sized stories that start off this collection, a moment as magical as the tales themselves. These “Gobble-Up Stories” hearken back to Aesop, not only in brevity and abundant use of talking animals, but also in their ability to make you look at the world around you just a little differently.