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Interview: Dina Elenbogen

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 | Permalink

by Howard Schwartz

Jewish Book Council sat down with Dina Elenbogen, poet and author of Drawn from Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story, to talk about her experience of writing the book, living in Israel, and witnessing history.

Howard Schwartz: You kept a detailed journal for many years. At what point did you decide to write Drawn from Water, and how many years did it take?

Dina Elenbogen: It is difficult to say how long it took, because in between visits to Israel and drafts of the book I was also writing other things, teaching, raising children, and waiting for my next return. I had been keeping a journal for a long time, particularly while living in Israel, when I was constantly inspired by daily life and writing down my impressions of and encounters with the Ethiopian community. I had received a grant to return to Israel to see how the community was faring five years after Operation Moses, and my assignment was to report on my findings, so on all of my return visits I was both reporting and writing personal impressions. It wasn't until the Nineties, the aftermath of Operation Solomon, that I realized that my personal relationship with Israel, poetry, and the Ethiopian Jewish community were meant to be part of the same narrative.

HS: As a poet, you naturally brought a poet's perspective to your experiences. How did this impact your life in Ma'alot?

DE: I felt everything deeply. I saw both the beauty and the ugliness. I listened to people's words and silences. I understood the nuances. I also struggled with the fact that I was a poet and not an anthropologist: there were times when I wanted to be more of an anthropologist, to have a more objective and theoretical understanding of the absorption process. It wasn't until I was far into the book that I came to peace with the fact that what I had to offer was the story as told from a poet. When I found an editor who asked me to revise with my poet's hat on, I knew my task was almost complete.

HS: What was your impression of most Israeli’s attitude towards the Ethiopians? Did the immigrants feel welcome, despite their difficulties?

DE: There was and continues to be a mixed response to the Ethiopian community in Israel. In the aftermath of Operation Solomon in 1991, Israelis of all kinds were so moved by the sight of 15,000 Jews brought to Israel over one Shabbat in such a heroic effort. Though many of these new citizens proved to be good soldiers, workers, and students, Operation Solomon coincided with a huge aliyah—a wave immigration to Israel—from Russia, as well as the aftermath of the Gulf War, and Israelis were faced with the challenges of all of these events all at once. There were many who welcomed them, brought clothes and goods and tried to make them feel at home; but there are those who feared and discriminated against them, and continue to now.

HS: Drawn from Water not only chronicles the Ethiopian aliyah, but also the changes you experienced. How did your romantic view of Israel evolve into a more realistic attitude?

DE: I witnessed the evolution of racism against Ethiopian Israelis. I was there at the beginning and saw the potential of this community to contribute so much to Israeli society. At first it seemed that Israeli children throwing stones and adults referring to them as barbaric would pass. However, some of the racist attitudes have become institutionalized: teachers give up on Ethiopian students for being behind and don't look for creative ways to help them; the more recent offenses of police brutality are incomprehensible, extremely concerning and disillusioning. I try to hold onto the dream to a certain degree, but I have become more of an advocate than a dreamer. Fortunately this next generation of Ethiopian Jews, born in Israel, is standing up for itself, protesting in a louder voice. Hopefully it will be heard.

HS: You made the difficult decision not to make aliyah and to return to your life in the United States. Do you ever wonder about your alternate destiny if you had remained in Israel?

DE: I do. I would have to have made aliyah when I was still young and idealistic. The country has changed profoundly over the past thirty years and I have become less tolerant of Israel, particularly current policies. I have built a wonderful life with my family in America. Yet even now, when I walk for a day on Israeli soil, visit with my friends throughout the country—particularly with the Ethiopian families I befriended—something is still moved in me. The dreamer returns and I remember what I love about the country and how in some inexplicable way it feels more like home to me than anywhere else in the world.

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In Search of Theological Modesty

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 | Permalink

by William Liss-Levinson

I wrote In Search of Theological Modesty: Biblical Lessons to offer some perspectives that may enable readers to re-conceptualize themselves as thoughtful, spiritual Jews. The twenty-first century is emerging as a challenging time for people with faith-based traditions who also seek paths of openness to pluralistic voices and streams of spirituality. I have been personally troubled by fundamentalism, extremism, triumphalism and an intolerance that is garbed in the certitude of how one person or one group speaks the “The TRUTH” in contradistinction to the views and beliefs of others. In Search of Theological Modestyis deeply rooted in traditional Jewish approaches to biblical exegesis, but also finds new ways to support a commitment to tolerance and respect through examination of key stories and commandments in the Torah.

Blending homiletics with psychological insights, with this book I sought to create images, themes, and lessons that are both particularistic and global. Through analysis of Biblical texts in the Five Books of the Torah, I illustrate three special themes I see within Judaism: placing God, and not ourselves, at the center of the universe; understanding the boundaries and limitations we have as human beings; and, recognizing the dangers inherent in the certainty that one’s beliefs and perspectives are the only ones reflective of God’s truth and will. This book will hopefully paint backdrops of possibilities for Jews, regardless of their particular beliefs, rituals, and practices, to be open to the potential validity and worthiness of the views and perspectives of others, a concept which I call “Theological Modesty.”

This book is intended primarily to raise questions and suggest some possible answers that require one to look through a different lens. Because the chapters are each relatively brief, the book is well-suited to be incorporated into synagogue adult education programs and in a variety of other educational forums, through which these issues can be explored. Finally, for theologically committed people of other faiths, I have hopefully presented the Jewish texts and other Jewish sources in a manner such that they, too, will find value in these chapters. Issues of pluralism and openness to differing views are certainly very much alive in other faiths as well. Intra- and inter-religious understanding is a challenge we all share. I invite people of varying backgrounds and understandings to join in my own search to more humbly approach my beliefs, other people, and their beliefs and faiths.

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Soon, I'll Know All the Words They Know

Monday, August 17, 2015 | Permalink

Parnaz Foroutan is the author of The Girl from the Garden, a novel of the Persian Jewish community in Los Angeles and its origins in Iran. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.

It was uncanny, her portrait in black and white on the cover of the book and my own school picture. The same smile, the same cheekbones, the same nose. The same black, thick hair, cut just above the shoulders and held back by a barrette. And dark eyes, like mine. The book had small black words crowded together, page after page, bleeding through the pages, endless. I whispered the words of the title, tested their weight in my mouth, “Anne… Frank… Diary…”

On the playground, I listened silently to the conversations, the laughter, the sounds of names being called and words being screamed. An entire universe of exchange about matters of whose turn it was to hit the ball, about the pulling of hair and the sharing of cookies. An entire universe of interaction through words that flew by too quickly and only left a moment of confused pictures behind.

“Maman, I am going to learn to speak English very well. I am going to learn three new words every day. Soon, I’ll know all the words they know.”

The lady who read to us had hair the color of rain clouds when the sun shined through them. She sat in a chair while we sat on the floor. She held lovely books and read the words slowly, her voice like the sound of fat raindrops on the leaves of the oak tree outside my bedroom window. Wild Things. She read and I saw monsters that hid in dark basements and wailed like air raid sirens in the night. After she finished reading, she gave us a few minutes to walk around the large room and look at the shelves of books that ran from wall to wall. I opened their covers and looked into those pages, searching for beds that turned into boats and bedroom floors that became tumultuous waves.

“I got you a present.” I loved her, even though she pulled me out of class and the other children taunted me as I walked past them. “It’s a book. It’s about this girl named Madeline. She’s the one with red ribbons in her hair.” She read the words to me, slowly. She defined them, slowly. Then, when the story ended and I wanted to hear it again, she’d read it once more. Years later, I found that book at the bottom of a box filled with letters and old dolls.

The book with the photograph of the dark-eyed girl sat on my desk for weeks and each afternoon, when the fourth grade teacher announced reading time, I picked it up and struggled past words until they became sentences, past those until they became paragraphs.

“She looks just like you,” Steven Bookbinder said it loud enough so that everyone at the table heard and rushed to look at the book in his hand. No one looked like me, except this girl in an old photograph on the cover of a book that the librarian insisted was too hard for me to read. I pulled the book from his hand, angry and ashamed. He had touched something that was mine. Not the object—that dog-eared copy that had circulated in the library of Brookside Elementary School year after year—but an entire world in a lonely attic that I shared with a girl named Anne.

It happened one day, just like that. The words on the page disappeared and I found myself hearing her voice, looking through that little window beside her. The words opened into a story, and I was there. And when that book ended, I opened another, and another. I was a German soldier on the front, a redheaded boy in love with a pony the color of a sunset, a poor man, a murderer hounded by my conscious, a prostitute. And to this day, still, when I need to find some redemption, some grace that raises me from the loneliness and isolation of being, I open a book, and wait for the words to invite me in.

Parnaz Foroutan was born in Iran and spent her early childhood there. Her novel The Girl from the Garden, for which she received PEN USA's Emerging Voices award, was inspired by her family history.

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New Jewish Book Reviews August 8, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council Reviews:

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Don't miss hearing us on Vox Tablet's feature on summer reads for 2015!

"Is That You on the Book Cover?"

Thursday, August 13, 2015 | Permalink

Sande Boritz Berger is the author of The Sweetness, a novel on its second tour through the JBC Network.

“So,” readers ask, “is that you on the book cover?”

The child adorning the cover of my novel The Sweetness was born years before me. There is no need to say, “But we are related,” and certainly no need to mention that, although we are second cousins, we have never met. Yet the desire to tell every single detail about the story burns within me.

The truth is, though it would take years, writing became a way of breathing life into the girl seen on the cover of The Sweetness: her face unforgettable, her eyes, in particular, haunting and as inquisitive as the persona I created for her in this novel inspired by my family’s complicated history. Her real name, Rosha, is the name I chose to give her. I saw no reason to alter that particular truth. She came into my life quite unexpectedly about fifteen years ago on a chilly, dark, December afternoon while I was visiting my great aunt’s tiny studio apartment in the Brooklyn neighborhood where she had lived for over fifty years, the last twenty as a widow.

When she could no longer travel to spend time with my family, I would try a couple of times a month to visit her and bring lunch—usually fresh bagels and smoked salmon from the city. I could almost mouth her words as soon as she took her first bite: “These are ridiculous! Too big for human consumption.” Actually, though difficult to please, she was right, and so we ate our lunch in silence, me not wishing to rattle her mood. But I somehow always knew she was glad for my company. In her younger, healthier, days, she had often joked saying she was my real mother. My aunt had married late in life and never had kids of her own.

It was after lunch on one of those visits that, instead of dozing off in her favorite tufted high-back chair in the steamy living room, my aunt reached into her linen closet and took down a round metal cookie box, which she placed smack in the center of her kitchen table. Thinking (hoping) that maybe the box contained sugar-coated butter cookies, I pried open the lid to find the box stuffed to the brim with tattered documents and letters. With her pale arms crossed against her chest, my aunt sat back and gazed out the tiny window streaked with winter’s dirt. I babbled on, quickly riffling through the floral embossed box, as if searching for the crackerjack prize, and after some minutes I selected a thick envelope yellowed from time. Inside, there was an official looking document from Riga, Latvia: a telegram addressed to my grandfather—my aunt’s older brother—from relatives announcing the birth of their baby named Rosha, who they announced was doing well. The year stamped on the document was 1931.

A sepia photograph slipped from the envelope onto the table, and suddenly there she was—a child, no longer a baby, perhaps five or six years old. I held that photo in my hands for a very long time, glancing up at my aunt whose eyes had quickly reddened. In another photo I recognized my grandmother riding in a horse and buggy and sitting alongside a woman with the little girl, who was the child’s mother. My grandmother, spiffy in a large brimmed hat looked like a sophisticated traveler totally out of her element—far from her busy life in Brooklyn with her own two children.

When my aunt said she wanted me to keep the box filled with all her documents, I felt as though she had handed me the keys to my family’s mysterious past. Of course I had lots of questions, but she said very little, and to push further I knew would have upset her. What I do remember about that day was her saying these words:

“I should have stayed. I never should have come here.”

“But if you had,” I answered, “you might have been killed.”

“So what,” she said, turning from the window, “so what!” She looked more like a belligerent teen instead of a frail, 95-year-old woman. It was as though her eighty years in America had been nothing more than a handful of seeds that never took root.

I will never forget how she looked that day; there was so much sorrow etched across her face. It wasn’t until she passed away that I began writing my story. It was Rosha’s story, which I eventually alternated with another nearly-completed narrative I had been working on separately. And it was through the merging of those two parallel tales that a theme finally became clear to me.

At the end of her life, once more, my aunt had to face all the choices she had made, each haunting regret that evolved from merely surviving. It would take me a long, long time, but through the writing of The Sweetness, I began to understand her remorse.

Sande Boritz Berger’s debut novel, The Sweetness, is available wherever books are sold. She received an MFA from Stony Brook Southampton College and lives in Bridgehampton.

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Book Cover of the Week: Enchanted Islands

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It's been a great couple weeks for historical fiction, from Janis Cooke Newman's list of Top 5 Historical Novels for summer 2015 (and the release of her own historical fiction novel, A Master Plan for Rescue) to Alice Hoffman's newest book, The Marriage of Opposites—you can read the entire first chapter here!—and now the release of the book cover for Allison Amend's forthcoming work of historical fiction, Enchanted Islands:

The novel takes place in the Galapagos, exploring the world of military intelligence and espionage before World War II. It's due out in May 2016. So far that's all we know!

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“If you think Cairo’s any better, my dear, you’re mistaken."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 | Permalink

Excerpt from Alexandrian Summer by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren.

The Sporting Club neighborhood, the horse racing tracks beyond the tramlines. At the intersection of Rue Delta and the Corniche, by the sea, stands house number twenty-four, all seven of its stories (we used to climb up to the flat roof and shoot paper arrows down at the industrious ants running around on the sidewalk, back and forth, as if there were purpose to all this frenzy).

An Arab doorman, Badri, stands guard, squinting at the sun. His face is tan and emaciated. His little boy, Abdu, loiters at his side, helping him watch the shadows stretching over the sidewalk and the passing cars, headed toward the sea. Badri and his son welcome anyone approaching the building with an alert greeting, “Ahalan, ya sidi,” full of expectation: Will the guest give bakshish or not? If the guest does tip them, they escort him with bows all the way to the elevator door. If he doesn’t­­­­­––they point lazily in the direction of the moldy duskiness.

The elevator is ancient, barred with black metal and faded gold openwork and bitten by reddish rust. The door slams with a metallic shake, and … a miracle! The elevator rises with a buzz, dragging with effort a looping tail that grows longer as the elevator ascends. Chilling stories have been told about power outages between the fourth and fifth floors; fights between neighbors, beginning in the stairwell, intensified in the gloom of the elevator, later to dissipate outside, in the subtropical sun that ridicules all human endeavors.

Second floor, that’s as far as I go. If you aren’t lazy, you could climb it by foot. A copper plate bearing the name of a Jewish family, descendant of Sephardic Jews from the era of the Spanish Expulsion (their last name is the name of their hometown with the suffix “ano”). The doorbell rings. A dark-haired and skinny servant opens the door and addresses you in lilting Mediterranean French: “Oui, missier, quisqui voulez?” and you stutter and ask: “Is this where Robert … Robby lives?”

The servant is surprised that a thirty-year-old man is interested in a ten-year-old boy, but he does not voice his opinion as long as he isn’t asked to. “Robby––there!” He signals toward the balcony, at the far end of the apartment. “Should I call him?”

“No, no! Please, there’s no need.”

The Arab servant looks at you with a hint of suspicion. “Who you, missier?” and you give him your name, Hebraized to fit Israel of the 1950s, which rejected all foreign sounds. The servant does not decipher any connection between the two names. To him the strange name could be Greek or Turkish or Italian or Maltese or Armenian or French or British or even American. Alexandria is the center of the world, a cosmopolitan city. You want to add: yes, I used to be Robert, too. Twenty years ago. I’m coming from twenty years away. I won’t interrupt, I just want to watch. I won’t interfere, God forbid. No one will notice me. I just want to tell the story of one summer, a Mediterranean summer, an Alexandrian summer.

Continue Reading »

Translated by Yardenne Greenspan. Reprinted by permission of New Vessel Press

The Power of Story: How Ancient Tales Shaped One Author’s Modern Fiction

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 | Permalink

Laura Nicole Diamond is the author of Shelter Us, a finalist for the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Fiction Award. She will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.

A few months after I gave birth to our first child, my husband and I went out for that rarest of date nights: dinner and a movie. Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica bustled with people— teenagers and senior citizens and families with children of all ages. As we walked from the restaurant to the theater, one woman sitting on a bench, her hand on a stroller, caught my eye. There was something askew, something that made me wonder about her all through the movie. When the credits rolled, I told my husband we had to go back to that bench.

The Promenade was quiet and empty, but the woman and her baby sat precisely where they had been three hours earlier. There was something about her that broadcast “otherliness.” We approached and asked if she was okay, and she explained that they had outworn their welcome with friends. They would sleep in that spot. They were homeless.

Maybe it was because we had a baby of our own, maybe it was because she revealed she was Jewish so I felt a certain kinship, but we could not bear the thought of them—really, her baby—sleeping outside. But what could we do? Take them to our house? What if she was mentally ill? What if she harmed us or our baby? I didn’t think she would, but could I take that chance? I felt guilty, but knew we could not bring her home.

So we offered to take them to a motel for one night. She accepted and told us where to take her. We drove them there, prepaid, said goodbye, and went home. I could not shake the thought that our act was tantamount to nothing. The next morning at 11 AM, they would be without shelter again.

Perhaps it was guilt, or my good Jewish upbringing (one and the same thing?), but this interaction galvanized me to find and volunteer for a non-profit that helped homeless families. I met young single mothers who were getting back on their feet with the help of social workers, federally subsidized rents, job training, and their own determination.

Just as I couldn’t stop thinking about that woman and her child during the movie, over the years I couldn’t stop thinking about all of these women—their stories, their courage, their setbacks, their successes. They resided in my imagination and became an integral part of my novel, Shelter Us. Shelter Us is the story of Sarah, a suburban mother haltingly recovering from a terrible loss, who becomes obsessed with “saving” a young homeless mother she sees on the streets of Los Angeles. In the character of Josie, the homeless mother, I wanted to humanize one face of homelessness, to show the grit and resilience of the young mothers I had met.

Like so many people do when faced with intense need, Sarah struggles with how to help Josie. She considers all of the concerns that pinged through my mind so many years before. Sarah, like me, wishes the world were different, that she could take them in. But Sarah makes a starkly different choice than I did. She reaches beyond the normal conventions of do-gooding and tzedakah, busting the parameters that say don’t get too close, don’t get too involved, with potentially life-shattering consequences. As I wrote and revised, I was vexed by how to make Sarah’s outreach to Josie more plausible. I found the answer in an unlikely place: Torah study.

Growing up, my family celebrated Shabbat intermittently, and did not follow (let alone know) most Jewish law. Like many modern Jewish families, social justice was essential to who we were. It was modeled by actions, not taught as dogma: my family went to rallies and walked for causes—civil rights, environment, peace—without explicitly connecting it to religion. As far as I knew, Torah study was exclusively for yeshiva students.

But a few years ago, midway through the writing of Shelter Us, out of curiosity I began attending Torah study at my (progressive, Reconstructionist) synagogue. I was surprised to discover that I loved it, that Torah study was not about learning static rules, but was a dynamic conversation about what it means to live with meaning, purpose, and compassion. One week, as my rabbi led a conversation about one of the thirty-six parashiyot that include the directive to “take care of the stranger,” an “Aha!” moment for the novel came to me: This lesson would explain Sarah’s courage to reach out to Josie. It would be a strong connection with her late mother, a Jewish convert who had modeled this value. Her mother’s legacy would spur her on. Imagine my surprise that Torah study helped me weave together the fabric of my novel.

There is an epilogue to this story. If it came as a surprise that Torah study would play a role in solving a plot point in my novel, perhaps it should not be surprising that it subsequently played an important role in a crucial family decision. After the manuscript of Shelter Us was with the publisher, I received an email from a friend of a friend, asking if I knew anyone who might be able to foster a teenage girl who had fled her violence-plagued country and needed a home. I showed the message to my husband. Down the hall slept our child who had been an infant when we first encountered a young homeless mother. He was thirteen, and his younger brother was ten. Re-reading the email, I couldn’t shake the feeling that in writing Shelter Us I had written myself a map for this moment.

In a bigger sense, it was Torah that had written us a map. Because of the weekly conversations about Jewish values prompted by its ancient stories, I did not have to agonize, research, or debate. I had conversed with my ancestors and my community, had wrestled with it in my fiction, and although there was anxiety, I had arrived at an answer: We would welcome this stranger into our home. We would find the courage to do what we knew was right.

Laura Nicole Diamond is the editor of the anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, whose proceeds benefit women and children in need. She is a Board Member of PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), and past Board Member of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation of Pacific Palisades. A civil rights lawyer, Laura lives in Los Angeles with her family. For more, visit

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Interview: Joseph Kanon

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 | Permalink

by Elise Cooper

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon is a gripping historical thriller. The book’s plot takes place in Berlin four years after the end of World War II. Through an action-packed plot, readers get a glimpse of the start of the Cold War, when Stalinists replaced the Nazis. This fast-paced novel brings to life postwar Berlin, a city caught between the past atrocities of the Nazis and the harsh realities of the Soviet occupation.

Elise Cooper: Are planning a sequel to Leaving Berlin?

Joseph Kanon: I never write sequels to any of my books. When they end for me they end for me. It ended where it’s supposed to end, at least in my head.

EC: Do you think your book shows that there is no difference between the Nazis and the Soviets after World War II?

JK: Yes. Especially regarding the impact of the East German population concerning their day-to-day existence. I wondered what would it be like in a society if you were one of the decent people and had to exchange one set of gangsters for another. But, I want to make sure that the reader understands how appalling the Nazis were.

EC: Do you think the Jews sided with the Communists because they were fighting the Nazis?

JK: Yes and No. In the 1930s people were drawn to Communism as a response to Fascism. The German Communists were good at putting across their narrative: “we were the first victims, the first anti-Fascists, and the first people Hitler went after.” It is a fact that for some Hitler drew people towards the Left. Yet, let us not forget that a lot of Jews were drawn to socialist ideologies earlier in the twentieth century, before Hitler.

EC: Do you think it was hard for Alex to go back to Germany?

JK: Yes. He did not want to leave the United States and travel to the Communist sector of Berlin. Alex, like many Jews, did not want to return to Germany His parents were murdered by the Nazis. The last thing he wants is to recreate being a part of a scary and oppressive regime in Berlin, as was the case when he lived there under the Nazis. Yet, having made the deal with the CIA he must go back. Therein lies the problem.

EC: Do you think Alex was not really an ideologue?

JK: It is a fair statement that Alex does not seem to have his heart in Communism. He saw two sides, with the Nazis representing the Right and the Communists representing the Left. At one point in the novel Alex refers to having attended a Communist meeting in California. He basically went with someone who invited him, but he never becomes a party member or commits to it. I would describe him as a Socialist, partly because he never abandoned his Judaism. When he got caught up in the crosshairs of the McCarthy sweep he got into trouble because of his principled position of not naming anyone else. This ruined his life.

EC: How would you describe the doctor?

JK: I wanted to show the sides of different characters. On the one hand the doctor is an unrepentant Nazi. He is not sympathetic at all. That is why I put this quote in the book: “You don’t come to judge, but you do. Such terrible people. So now we’re all guilty.” The German doctor who said this is being self-serving and he is essentially saying ‘I don’t want anyone to judge me.’ What upsets Alex the most is that this doctor talks without any guilt or shame. But I also wanted to show that not every German was like him. I want readers to ask, what if I was caught up in that society? What would I do?

EC: Would you describe Irene as double-dealing?

JK: We must remember that the population in Berlin is dependent on the rations for their survival. There are no jobs or food except what is given out by the occupying forces. How someone answered a questionnaire is one of the ways to determine the amount of rations they received. Irene lied partly for self-preservation, partly because she was devious, and a part for survival. She is damaged by the war, wounded.

EC: You also describe how the German Jews assimilated themselves into society. Did you want to make a point about the past and present?

JK: Yes. Alex’s family are Jews who thought of themselves as Germans first. They had blindfolds on because they were prosperous and a successful part of society. Then, to their horror and surprise, they found out not everybody thought of them as Germans

EC: Herb is different than Alex in that he is a Communist who is Jewish in name only. What is he supposed to represent?

JK: He allowed me to discuss the Communist Party’s post war purges, which I moved up a year for the story. There is no question in Alex’s mind—and in mine—that these purges by Stalin had a level of anti-Semitism. Unlike Alex, Herb is a true believer and came willingly to Berlin to build the Socialist ideal. He gets swept up in one of those nets that put on show trials. I wanted to show how his wife became a pawn to save her husband. She became a spy and informant for the Stalinists. Because they were western Jews from New York they were seen as contaminated, untrustworthy, and not loyal.

EC: You discuss in Leaving Berlin how America made common cause with the Nazi scientists: “The Americans don’t care, as long as they’re not Communists.”

JK: I talk a bit how the United States employed the German scientists for expediency. This is shameful. We are talking about people who participated in war crimes and were given visas, while many Jews were turned away. Essentially what we decided is that these are very bad people unless they are useful to us, and then they are not so bad. What they did to the Jews and others is ignored.

EC: What would you like the readers to get out of the plot?

JK: An irresistible story. I hope readers are intrigued by the fact that Alex had to go back to Berlin and face the different elements of that society. The book is about the moral ambiguity of people who must tend to two sides, which will never come together.

Elise Cooper lives in Los Angeles and has written numerous national security articles supporting Israel. She writes book reviews and Q&A's for many different outlets including the Military Press. She has had the pleasure to interview bestselling authors from many different genres.

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, August 07, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

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