The ProsenPeople

Book Cover of the Week: Hot Dog Taste Test

Wednesday, June 15, 2016 | Permalink

If you own a Netflix account—or a subscription to Lucky Peach, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, or McSweeney's—you've seen Lisa Hanawalt's work. This week, the designer and producer of BoJack Horseman releases a collection of her graphic essays in Hot Dog Taste Test:

Hot Dog Taste Test also features never-before-seen sequences of graphic memoir, including illustrations of her travels to Argentina, where Hanawalt's great-grandparents settled after escaping pogroms in Odessa, to join her mother's family in Buenos Aires on summer retreats to La Cumbrecita. You can preview sections of the book here and see how the creator of the most famous horse since Mr. Ed fares as an equestrian in the Sierra Grandes.

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Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree of Life

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 | Permalink

Following Anne Frank’s birthday over the weekend, The Tree in the Courtyard author Jeff Gottesfeld is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

There is a moment every artist dreams of, when an idea that is at least good gets transformed into something potentially transcendent, if only the artist can only execute it.

In my case, I can’t remember what I read in the summer of 2010 that shared the story of how the 172 year-old horse chestnut tree in the courtyard behind 263 Prinsengracht, Amsterdam, had cracked in half in a storm.

The lede choked me up. I had gazed at that tree on a dreary day in 1981; stared at it as Anne Frank might have though the attic window of the hiding place above the same courtyard—the only window in the annex that had not be covered by improvised curtains that Anne had helped her father to sew. I learned later how Anne wrote about the tree three times in the diary, including an astonishing entry dated 23 February, 1944:

The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.

In the decades after the campaign of exterminationist antisemitism roared out of Germany across World War II Europe, the chestnut tree became an etz chaim, a tree of life. After the Franks’s annex became a museum, millions gazed upon this tree as Anne and Peter did. The tree had sickened in the decade before its demise; botanists and tree surgeons had brought their best science to bear, engineers had erected a supporting scaffold for her in all-out effort to save its life. It was no avail. The tree was gone.

I stared at my desktop monitor, sad and bitter all at once. A memory from Schindler’s List blew through my mind. It was the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, seen and heard from afar. So many had perished there, and so few had tried to save them. In Amsterdam, so few had tried to save the girl. Sixty-odd years later, humanity was making its best efforts for a tree. A tree! The contrast rankled. Bile rose. I nearly clicked out of the story.

I’m glad I didn’t. A few moments later, I reached what for me was the most important part; about how other scientists were sprouting healthy baby saplings from the tree’s trunk and her seedpods. These would become new trees to be planted the world over. Eleven of them had been promised to the United States, in locations meaningful in the struggle for human dignity. I have photograph of my book, The Tree in the Courtyard, resting against one of these saplings at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. There are others at the September 11th memorial in Manhattan, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and more.

Just as Anne Frank’s diary may live on for a hundred generations after we are dust and ashes, these new trees will drop tens, then hundreds, then thousands of seedpods. So will their progeny, and their progeny’s progeny. There could come a time when every school, synagogue, church, mosque, town hall, and courthouse that wanted one might have a tree-from-the-tree-in-the-courtyard growing as a massive etz chaim, a living reminder of mankind’s confounding nature: our potential for good and penchant for evil.

There it was, that golden artistic moment. There was the story. It was one worth telling. Yet good as the idea was, I was left with a massive problem. How could I tell it in a way that would be worth reading? I got the cockamamie idea that I should write this as a picture book for grade school kids—I’ve been fortunate to have a reasonable career as a writer and author, but I’d never written a picture book manuscript in my life.

That problem would occupy me for five weeks. It ended with me giving up. Then, two years later, I got the line that would become the spine of the book: The tree recalled how few had tried to save the girl. It was the seed I needed. I was on my way.

Jeff Gottesfeld is an award-winning writer for page, stage, and screen. He has previously written for adult, teen, and middle-grade audiences; The Tree in the Courtyard is his first picture book.

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New Reviews June 10, 2016

Friday, June 10, 2016 | Permalink

This week's new reviews at Jewish Book Council:


Featured Content:

  • We're looking forward to Shavuot with our Book Cover of the Week: The Reason for Flowers by Stephan Buchmann.
  • Sophie Cook on the heirloom furniture that survived the Holocaust in Hungary together with her family and advice to fellow writers to relish the day job.
  • JBC intern Sophie Siegel suggests delicious dairy dishes for Shavuot out of some of our favorite kosher cookbooks.
  • Continuing her ongoing series on considering disabilities during the Jewish holidays, Liane Kupferberg Carter offers her Ten Commandments of Special Needs Parenting.
  • Be sure to browse our Shavuot Reading List!
  • Ten Commandments of Special Needs Parenting

    Thursday, June 09, 2016 | Permalink

    Following her posts on recognizing the sensory overload of celebrating Purim and setting a place for special needs at the seder table, this week Liane Kupferberg Carter continues her exclusive series on celebrating the Jewish holidays in a family with special needs as a Visiting Scribe guest contributor on The ProsenPeople.

    During the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Jews worldwide go to their local synagogues to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments. I follow the official set, but as the parent of a child with a disability I’ve also needed to develop my own set of directives to make me the most effective advocate I can be for my son. Here are my ten commandments for parenting a child with special needs:

    1. Thou art the biggest expert on thine own child. As Dr. Spock said more than 70 years ago, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” No one loves or knows our child better than my husband and I do as his parents.

    2. Thou shalt presume competence. My son Mickey is 23 and disabled, but we always assume he wants and is able to learn. We expose him to new experiences whenever we can. We never stop trying to teach him. Presuming competence doesn’t mean we think he automatically gets everything, but we know he is taking it all in, storing it, and processing it on his own timetable—and that he will surprise us with entirely appropriate and insightful comments that clearly indicate he understands.

    3. Thou shalt not talk about thy child in front of him. Adults everywhere persist in doing it, and we’re sometimes guilty of it, too. But we have also learned that even when Mickey doesn’t seem to be paying attention, he is. Eye contact is not a reliable indicator: you don’t hear with your eyes!

    4. Thou shalt always remember that behavior is communication. With or without spoken language, everyone uses behavior to communicate. When Mickey behaves in a way that challenges us, I remind myself that he isn’t doing it to annoy us. He can’t always find the words to explain, but he’s telling us he feels unsafe, uncomfortable, scared, or overwhelmed. Babies cry when they are wet or hungry; adults yawn when they are bored, or shout when they’re upset. Mickey’s behavior communicates frustration or discomfort; it’s our job to figure out what he’s telling us.

    5. Thou shalt not covet someone else’s neurotypical child. This one took me years. When I tuned out what typical kids his age did, I was able to see how much progress Mickey was making. He delights us every day, and I don’t take any of his hard-won milestones for granted. I want for Mickey the same things I want for his brother Jon: to live the most satisfying, independent lives they can, with loving friends, good health, and work that is meaningful to them.

    6. Thou shalt accept that ketchup may indeed be a vegetable. Mickey has sensory issues. It’s hard for him to distinguish good flavors when he can’t get past disturbing textures. Lettuce repulses him; carrots make him gag. “Ketchup is my favorite vegetable,” he will tell you, and it’s the only “vegetable” he’ll eat. He also can’t tolerate crowds or loud music. He hates footwear of any kind. While I won’t let him go out wearing shorts in January as he wants to, I’ve also learned that just because I’m cold doesn’t mean he has to put on a sweatshirt. I respect that his sensory system isn’t mine. We’re wired differently. I’m a PC; he’s a Mac. As the Internet meme says: “Autism is not a processing error. It’s a different operating system.”

    7. Honor thy fellow autism parents. They are a lifeline. Treasure them. They will validate your feelings, and support you when you are down. They are the ones who really, truly get it.

    8. Thou shalt pay attention to the needs of thy nondisabled children. A child’s disability can take over the emotional life of the entire family. Your disabled child may require more of your time, but not more of your love. Make sure to give your other children as much attention as you possibly can.

    9. Thou shalt keep thy sense of humor. Do I really need to explain this one? Laughter is rich and restorative. It fosters resilience.

    10. Thou shalt take care of thyself. A study of cortisol levels published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2010 found that mothers of adolescents and adults with autism experience chronic stress levels comparable to that of combat soldiers. I’m no good to my kids if I don't stay healthy and strong. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it. Because as all special needs parents know, we need to live forever.

    Liane Kupferberg Carter is a nationally-known writer and advocate for the autism community and a co-author of the Autism Speaks Advocacy Took Kit. She is currently touring for the 2016 – 2017 season on her memoir Ketchup Is My Favorite Vegetable through the JBC Network.

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    Delicious Dairy Dishes for Shavuot

    Wednesday, June 08, 2016 | Permalink

    Posted by Sophie Siegel

    Shavuot is a celebration of when the Jewish people received the Torah on Mount Sinai. In the Jewish tradition, Shavuot is celebrated by indulging in meals cooked with dairy products. In some cultures, people observe the holiday by staying up all night to learn the Torah, and some communities take advantage of the spring weather by organizing large picnics.

    The origins of these traditions are often disputed. One explanation is that we eat dairy to commemorate the giving of the Torah, which King Solomon compares to milk: "Like honey and milk, it lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Another explanation is that since the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered or dish made kosher, so they chose to eat dairy. Regardless of the origin, the use of dairy products makes for many inventive and delicious meals.

    The Holiday Kosher Baker provides great recipes for delicious holiday dishes. The author, Paula Shoyer, includes recipes made specifically for the Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot. For Shavuot, Shoyer abides by the traditional customs of the holiday, providing rich-in-dairy recipes that do not have dairy-free alternatives. Shoyer’s background in the art of French pastries led her to convert her favorite dairy desserts into “parve versions.” Some of her most delightful dairy desserts include her family’s noodle kugel recipe, caramelized cakes called cannelés, caramelized mocha and vanilla bean napoleons, chocolate mille-crêpes cake, white chocolate mousse cake, and brioche challah.

    The recipes in Ina Pinkney’s autobiographical cookbook Ina’s Kitchen: Taste Memories and Recipes from the Breakfast Queen are easy to make and aesthetically pleasing. Some of her recipes are prepared with dairy products, perfect for Shavuot, including a pasta frittata layered with many types of cheeses. In The New Persian Kitchen, a compilation of Louisa Shafia’s reimagined Persian recipes, Shafia includes a recipe for Greek-style yogurt, which can be paired with vegetables, fruit, and pita or can accompany any entrée. For dessert, readers have the choice between her dairy-filled recipes for mulberry yogurt cake and saffron frozen yogurt and cardamom pizzelle sandwiches.

    In The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen, Amelia Saltsman brings a fresh approach to traditional Jewish cooking. For Shavuot, she shares many dairy based recipes. Especially enticing is her pashtida, Israeli noodle or egg casserole: Saltsman’s recipe calls for baked pasta, spinach, ricotta, and brown butter. Another appetizing meal for Shavuot from Saltsman’s trove is a cheese and honey filo pie, which integrates three different kinds of cheese and is served with warm honey atop to create a perfect blend of sweet and savory.

    Dairy-based desserts are a rich indulgence during Shavuot, as they are rarely consumed in kosher households following a traditional meat meal for most other holidays and occasions. Milk and honey are transformed into culinary delicacies in Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, written by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Their recipe for chocolate babka is mouth-watering, filled to the brim with chocolate. Their recipe for honey cake with apple confit is traditional, but can be paired with both sweet and savory foods like coffee or goat cheese.

    Although Shavuot is a big holiday for dairy and wheat-based dishes, there are some really great alternatives to suit different dietary needs. In The New Yiddish Kitchen: Gluten-Free and Paleo Kosher Recipes for the Holidays and Every Day, Simone Miller and Jennifer Robins share their gluten-free and kosher recipes for the holidays. Sprinkled into the mix are original substitutions to condiments and sauces, including recipes for dairy-free sour cream and dairy-free butter.

    These cookbooks provide you with the necessary foundations for creating the perfect Shavuot meal: dairy from start to finish!

    Sophie Siegel is a student at Emory University and a current intern for the Jewish Book Council.

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    Writing in Between Whatever

    Wednesday, June 08, 2016 | Permalink

    Earlier this week, Sophie Cook shared the how her family’s heirloom furniture inspired her first historical novel, Anna & Elizabeth, while she was still in high school. Sophie is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

    None of the writers I know make their living as full time writers. Especially not novelists. They all have day jobs and, often, families or family members who need attention. Many conversations and some really good advice books try to help writers continue to write while working full- or part-time to support themselves.

    I cannot presume to give advice; I can only tell you how I have done it. I am completing my third novel, on top of a memoir to my name—as well as many memos, letters, briefs, etc. during my career as a lawyer and a manager. I probably did all of them the same way, although not with the same pleasure. So I’ll focus on being a novelist in snatches of time.

    The advice we all get in writing workshops is to write for three hours a day, in and out of weeks. I’ve only done that on vacation or when I was able to attend a retreat for writers. It’s wonderful, but quite a luxury. So I’ll try to get beyond the recommendation to the reason for it.

    To create a world for your reader, as a novelist does, you do need to be immersed in the imaginary world where your novel’s characters live. Of course you do that if you sit at your laptop or notebook for a long stretch, although there are times when nothing happens and that is very discouraging. I do it by keeping my story in my head, so whenever I’m not thinking about work or errands I can re-enter that imaginary world, even when I’m away from my yellow pad or computer.

    One very useful piece of advice I got was to leave any stretch of your writing a little bit up in the air, even if you know what comes next. That gives you a beginning for your next writing opportunity and, in my case, something to think about when I’m not writing. So while I’m doing other things, that bit germinates. I imagine what she says, what he does, what the weather would be at that time when I start up again. I enjoy this exercise, and when I finally can sit down, whatever I imagined gives me a start for the next episode. Then I get up, with maybe an unsolved problem in my head.

    I love my characters and what they do—even the bad ones! Although there tends to be a higher emphasis put upon stylistic excellence, for me, it’s the spirit of the work that matters: the emotional impulse behind the novel, the importance of the telling of this particular story that compelled the writer to persevere and the reader to turn the page. As a fiction writer, I live for the moment when a character jumps off the page. That moment justifies the frustration that went on before.

    And don’t be too hard on that day job. It serves you as a novelist by giving you models for the heroes and the villains, in different forms, of the life you create on the page.

    Sophie Cook was born in Hungary. Her family survived the Holocaust and came to the United States in 1951. Before her retirement this year, Sophie worked as an attorney for federal agencies, a mediator, and a manager for non-profit organizations.

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    Book Cover of the Week: The Reason for Flowers

    Tuesday, June 07, 2016 | Permalink

    Posted by Nat Bernstein

    One of my very favorite Jewish holiday traditions is coming up: beflowering one's home for Shavuot! Owing to a midrash that Mount Sinai spontaneously blossomed into flower with the transmission of the Torah at its top, a lovely (but often overlooked) custom emerged of decorating homes and even synagogues with visually and fragrantly appealing flora. And what better way to declare the spring is here?

    With floral arrangements to be made, this is the perfect week to revisit Stephan Buchmann's delightful book The Reason for Flowers: Their History, Culture, Biology, and How They Change Our Lives—now available in paperback! Trust me, the content is as enticing as the book cover—which is even more glorious in textured hard copy than the striking image you see above. One of my favorite nonfiction reads in the last year and likely the best book on flowers I've encountered yet, Buchmann's approach blends beauty with science, sociology, and good writing. Beyond accessible, The Reason for Flowers is an engaging and enjoyable read, packed with fascinating knowledge about the plants around us.

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    Heirlooms from Hungary

    Monday, June 06, 2016 | Permalink

    Sophie Cook’s family history and childhood experience of surviving the Holocaust in Hungary inform her first historical novel, Anna & Elizabeth. Sophie is guest blogging for Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

    My historical novel Anna & Elizabeth was born late one afternoon, when I was a teenager. I was sitting in our living room in New York City, surrounded by family furniture my mother had rescued from our family’s Holocaust persecution in Budapest, Hungary. The furniture, like my immediate family, was a survivor from a shipwreck. But like my family, the chests and armoires I was looking at had been lovingly restored and full of stories.

    In March of 1944, when the deportations started, we had to leave our apartment as Jews to go into hiding. I was six years old. My brother and I were separated from our parents until February 1945, when Russian troops liberated Budapest. We were finally reunited with my mother and father, both of whom had miraculously survived; late in 1944, Hungarian Nazi thugs had murdered my beloved grandmother and my great-aunt. Because the two old women had been shot and thrown into the icy Danube, my mother would never again go near the river.

    It is amazing how much loving parents can do to heal a child’s tragedy. Living in a rented apartment while my parents prepared to leave a country that had betrayed them, I could be a child again. My brother and I played with the colored shards of a stained glass window, shattered by the bombing; eating the home-baked bread my mother made for my father’s workers was an exciting treat. (With rampant post-war inflation, workers at my father’s stove factory wanted to be paid in kind.) My mother, my brother, and I left Hungary in early 1947, and my father followed us shortly afterwards, before the Iron Curtain would have cut us off and nationalized his factory. After long delays spent as refugees in Western Europe, we happily reached New York in 1951, when I was 14 years old.

    I still don’t know how my mother managed to repair and ship the Biedermeier family furniture that she insisted on bringing to New York, but I was proud that our shabby railroad flat in the Hungarian neighborhood of Manhattan, for which we paid $185 per month, was beautifully furnished. I also knew that my mother had gone to so much trouble because these heirlooms represented for her the cultured, tolerant world of her youth, swept away by the war and the Holocaust. My children and I now share this furniture and the memories that go with them.

    In high school, I took a class in creative writing. One late afternoon, sitting alone in our apartment, the furniture started to speak to me. My ancestors’ furniture is from the early part of the nineteenth century, before the dark and heavy Victorian styles took over. The pieces are smaller, the fruitwood that was used lighter, and veneer on the surfaces glows with the same kind of gentle shine as the polish used for violins. As I sat in the dusk, I had a vision of large, cheerful families that lived among the furniture, of girls with long braids having piano lessons, of women enjoying long afternoon coffees with cake and whipped cream.

    At that time, my understanding of our family’s past was sentimental and incomplete. It took many years for a high school essay to grow into the historical novel of Anna & Elizabeth—by which time I knew much more about my background and Hungary’s history. As a novelist, I also wanted to create compelling characters and settings. But my early attempt drew upon a story and feelings lodged deep in my consciousness.

    Novels should be absorbing, entertaining, funny, and sad, as I hope mine is. If they come from the heart, they reach the hearts of their readers, regardless of their own background. As I continue to write, I aim at plumbing my own depths in order to do so.

    Sophie Cook was born in Hungary. Her family survived the Holocaust and came to the United States in 1951. Before her retirement this year, Sophie worked as an attorney for federal agencies, a mediator, and a manager for non-profit organizations.

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    New Reviews June 3, 2016

    Friday, June 03, 2016 | Permalink

    This week's reviews at Jewish Book Council:

    Featured Content:

    Can Prayer Heal the World?

    Thursday, June 02, 2016 | Permalink

    Earlier this week, Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber shared how writing Why People Pray changed his life. He is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

    According to a recent poll, 90 percent of Americans believe in the healing power of prayer. For most Americans, prayer is not a substitute for medicine, but rather a way of reinforcing the healing process which depends primarily on medical treatment. In Judaism, faith and medicine have always complemented each other, as attested by the life and work of Moses Maimonides, the great twelfth-century physician and rabbinical authority.

    A much broader question, however, is whether prayer can heal the world. As the current century continues to unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that both the human race and the planet it inhabits are in urgent need of healing. It boggles the mind that now, nearly three-quarters of a century after the horrors of the Holocaust and of World War II, genocides are being committed in places like the Middle East and Africa, rivers are being poisoned everywhere, the rain forest is being decimated, and clouds of pollution hang over big cities, all because of human action. I have traveled to many of those places, and I have seen those things with my own eyes.

    While all of the major religions pray for the healing of the world, their prayers seem to be, to use the expression of Langston Hughes, a “dream deferred.” (“Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”)

    It is safe to say that prayer has done little to heal the world. For over fifty years I have been joining my fellow Jews in reciting the Sabbath service which contains the closing words, l’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai, “to repair the world in the image of the kingdom of God.” These are words all Jews believe in, but they are yet to repair the world. And so I have to ask myself, is there any point in continuing to utter such words? Political, economic, and ideological forces around the world do not seem to be interested in ending international conflicts and enabling the human race to pursue peaceful progress. The world remains deeply divided, and the threat of new large-scale wars, even nuclear ones, is hanging in the air across the globe. Is there any solution?

    One thing I have learned in my extensive travels around the world for the past twelve years is that while political ideologies across the entire spectrum from communism to capitalism have become dysfunctional, religion—which many people in the West believe is on the decline—remains the most powerful ideology from Tokyo to Timbuktu to Teheran to Tasmania. Prayer remains the ultimate expression of humanity’s innermost hopes and wishes. I would propose convening a world conference of spiritual leaders to discuss the incorporation of prayers for healing the world to be shared by all belief systems around the world. An appropriate day would be designated during which all places of prayer everywhere will see the world praying in one voice for the healing of humanity and the planet. This would create an awareness that all people everywhere, with the exception of fanatics and self-serving cynics, are sharing the same wish, namely, to see the world at long last do away with hatred and war-mongering, and begin the healing process so sorely needed by a troubled planet that is on the verge of courting its own doom.

    Rabbi, author, educator, writer, translator, publisher, Biblical scholar, and founder of Schreiber Translations, Rabbi Mordecai Schreiber has sailed the Seven Seas as a spiritual leader aboard cruise ships, with over fifty books published under his penname, Morry Sofer. He is touring through the Jewish Book Council for the 2016 – 2017 season as a JBC Network author.

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