The ProsenPeople

New Reviews May 19, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017 | Permalink

Featured Content


Jewish Day School: Yes Or No?
While April Peveteaux is happy with her decision to send her children to a Jewish day school, she has concerns about depriving her kids of a more diverse experience.

Interview with Marjorie Ingall
"We are starting to see American Jewish women as executive producers of comedy shows once again. As more and more Jewish women are in charge of their own storytelling, the Jewish Mother figure will become more nuanced." Marjorie Ingall chats with the Jewish Book Council about Jewish parenting in the modern age and her new book, Mamaleh Knows Best.

Breaking Kosher: When Your Kids Make the Rules
How gluten-free cookbook author April Peveteaux adapted to her kids' kosher demands—without compromising her own dietary needs.

New Books for Young Readers


Jewish Day School: Yes Or No?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, April Peveteaux shared how she balances her kids’ kosher demands with her own diet. With the publication of her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane, April is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


Some people think parenting gets real when you bring that baby home from the hospital and realize it’s now totally on you to keep it alive. As a more seasoned parent, I know that parenting gets real once you have to enroll your baby into big, bad Kindergarten. Yes, I’m being serious. No, I’m not belittling the fact that keeping your baby alive is a big freaking deal.

Like most parents living in Los Angeles of a certain creative/business/lawyering class, we are simultaneously lucky and cursed to have so many options for educating our children: lucky because the fact that I’m even able to write this piece about the pros and cons of Jewish Day School means that my husband and I CAN AFFORD JEWISH DAY SCHOOL; cursed because those who are given too many choices can often make bad ones. Or expensive ones. Or ones that give you indigestion.

Our choice of sending our children to a progressive, Reform Jewish day school was not the obvious one. But at the time, and even now with the benefit of hindsight I would maintain, it certainly seemed like the best. Still, we’re a mixed religious family and not particularly observant, so spending every day learning Hebrew from ages 5 to 11 seemed excessive.

Surprisingly, our ambivalence became the strongest reason to choose the path of Moses. Since my husband is Jewish, but very hazy on his Hebrew school knowledge, this felt to me like the best possible way to introduce our children to half of their heritage. As a Protestant from the Great Plains, I was not going to be able to help them with their Torah portion if they decided to be a bar and bat mitzvah. I’d always been interested in learning more about Judaism myself, so we decided this was a fantastic opportunity to give our children an excellent education while allowing them to discover Judaism and what it meant for them.

We have been incredibly happy with our children’s school. The focus on tikkun olam in our community has been the most impactful part of their early education. Living in a huge city like Los Angeles this school affords them the opportunity to exist and learn in a small, loving, like-minded community. This has also been a blessing. Yet, we have had our doubts about wrapping up our little citizens of the world in a tiny bubble.

Teaching our Jewish kids how to heal the world through service is an amazing start that I wish for every child. I will never undervalue the impact these years have had on my children and their ability to empathize and act when they see injustice in the world. Yet, I can’t help but feel that allowing our children to experience diversity of all kinds on a daily basis will enhance empathy in a real world way.

Eventually, our children need to live in the world outside of their bubble. To study alongside children who are not exactly like them. To understand that some classmates may be hungry, that some face racial, religious, gender, or class discrimination. They will see these children, because they’re sitting next to these kids in class, asking what they got for #9, and where everyone’s going after the after-after party.

Living in a city with such diversity but keeping our children away from the majority of its citizens started to feel like a disservice to our children. As parents of young ones, we do want to keep them surrounded by love and comfort at all times. But as parents of future adults, we have a responsibility to teach our children that they do not, in fact, exist in their own universe. Other people occupy the world who have different needs, different beliefs, and won’t agree with them at every turn.

While some people may think throwing children into the wilds of public school in Los Angeles is cruel and unusual—I mean the lunch options alone—we are not those people. Or maybe, we are no longer those people. Perhaps it took us too long to come to the realization that our job as parents is to not only protect and nurture our children, but to create good people who truly get what other people have to endure simply to get an education, and to prepare them for adulthood. At some point our kids have to learn that their worldview is not shared by all of their peers. And their fresh, organic, kosher lunch is a privilege, not the norm for children who eat one or more meals at school every weekday.

We are so grateful for the time our children spent surrounded by love, and the supportive families who will always be part of their journey. We are especially thankful for the lessons in Judaism they learned every day. We know they are able to look outward and question what they think they know, and that is because of the years spent at the Jewish day school. That is not nothing. That is not to be taken for granted, and forgotten. It’s simply that now, for many reasons, some altruistic, some convenient, it’s time to leave the nest and live in the real world. All four of us.

April Peveteaux is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch. Her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane is now available!


Related Content:


Breaking Kosher: When Your Kids Make the Rules

Monday, May 15, 2017 | Permalink

April Peveteaux is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch. With the publication of her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane, April is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


I am a woman who loves to eat. I consider feasting upon great foods one of my greatest passions and an intimate, yet universal, way to connect with other like-minded people who enjoy stimulating all of their senses. In other words: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my blended spinach and ricotta dip.

It was no accident that my husband and I fell in love over every ethnic meal we could indulge in while dating in New York City, and some that we were not sure qualified as any ethnicity. Where do those sugar-roasted nuts come from, anyway? His appreciation for my Southern and Cajun cooking and our many arguments over what makes a taco, based on his California experience and my Oklahoma and Texas knowledge, meant we were able to fulfill each other while remaining hungry.

After we brought our two beautiful, and voracious, children into the world it probably won’t surprise you to know that one of my most satisfying responsibilities as a mother and wife became the preparation of special birthday cakes for each member of my household. Pursuant to their personality and their preference, I make a unique birthday dessert for everyone, and insist they indulge in a piece for breakfast on the day they were brought into this earthly existence. Is there a better way to celebrate the day you were born than by smothering your gob with sugar? My husband goes for a honeybun cake made to resemble, well, a honeybun, covered in cinnamon, toasted pecans and a still-warm glaze. My son loves a rainbow cake with thick white buttercream frosting between each layer to accentuate the bright colors of the confection. And my daughter enjoys a cookie-crusted ice cream cake covered in fudge and whipped cream—the same ice cream cake my own mother made for me every year on my birthday.

Feeding my people is serious business, and I am filled with pleasure as they enjoy the culinary delights I share with them on special, and everyday occasions. Which is why raising kids as they attend a Jewish day school and start to get serious about Judaism has become a challenge to me—in the dietary sense.

As a cook who likes to expand her repertoire and broaden her children’s palates, preparing kosher meals on demand was not my (strawberry preferred) jam. I’m an add-on kind of gal who just walked into a restricted space and was not happy about having to ditch my bacon. I also like to make sure no one begins a meal hungry, so appetizers are a big part of my meal planning. When working under a traditional six-hour separation of the meat and dairy, there was no way I was bringing out my favorite roast chicken if I’d presented the epic cheese platter less than two hours prior. Something had to give. And it wasn’t going to be the cheese platter.

While doing some reconnaissance with other kosher parents, I realized that many chose the path of least resistance: going vegetarian or vegan. I am not that mom. I have celiac disease and can’t have gluten, and quite frankly I think that’s enough deprivation for one household. Also, being gluten-free means that bagels for every meal are also not an option. This is in fact, the worst.

Rather than risk offending everyone at my kid’s lunch tables, and also risk being a big old jerk, I decided my family would have to compromise. After all, if my kids were going to be raised Jewish, they were all ready to question everything. Why not lunch?

When packing a lunch I did decide that going vegetarian was the best way to respect the school guidelines and their observant classmates. Removing meat from their midday meal was going to be much easier on all of us. Especially me, since I don’t eat lunch at school and can shove all the leftover brisket into my mouth only minutes after indulging in nachos. But for my children’s sake, we pack a vegetarian lunch 99% of the time, and they can totally work with the lack of meat protein through the magic of bean and cheese burritos.

Dinnertime and the weekends are much more challenging, especially since the adults in the family do not keep kosher. Still, in support of our children’s commitment we make it work. Our daughter (the most stringent observer) has agreed to be “Dutch kosher” when at home or on vacation, meaning she can enjoy some dairy and only wait one hour to dig into the fried chicken. I compromise by experimenting with vegan and vegetarian meals that keep us kosher-style. Luckily the popularity of Paleo-style eating goes well with both kosher style (no dairy to mix with meat, just skip the pork and the shellfish recipes) and my own celiac disease, since the Paleo diet eschews all grains.

We are probably one of the few families who dine either Paleo or vegan depending on the evening, but mixing religions and food requires creativity and dedication to eating really well. I’m certainly willing to try new, delicious options—see recipe for Rice Chex chicken fingers below—to keep everyone in our house well fed and responsible to their beliefs. As long as I can keep deep-frying anything that falls in line with these dietary restrictions, it’s kosher.

Rice Chex Chicken Fingers

Kids love chicken fingers, but finding breadcrumbs that are both gluten-, egg-, and dairy-free is a huge challenge. Rice Chex (and other Chex products) are seven main allergen-free (no gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish or shellfish), so you can use them to crunch up your salads, or coat your fried chicken. Keep it dairy- and nut-free by using rice milk in this recipe.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes: 12 servings

Ingredients:
2 lbs. chicken tenders
4 cups Rice Chex
1 cup rice milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cups vegetable oil
Sauces for dipping (check allergen info on label)

1. If not already cut into fingers; slice your chicken into 6” strips, approximately 2” wide. Set aside.

2. In a food processor or blender, combine Rice Chex, salt, pepper and paprika. Pulse until texture resembles breadcrumbs. Transfer to a large plate.

3. Pour rice milk into a medium bowl and set up assembly line with chicken tenders, milk and Rice Chex mixture. Place chicken tenders in bowl with rice milk as you heat your oil.

4. Heat vegetable oil on medium-high in large skillet or use a deep fat fryer and heat on medium-high. Once water sprinkles “dance” on the surface the oil is ready. Turn heat down to medium.

5. Dredge (rice) milk soaked chicken tenders in Rice Chex crumbs, coating completely.

6. Transfer to hot oil and cook until browned, 5-7 minutes per side. Allow chicken tenders to drain on paper towel-covered plate.

7. Serve chicken tenders alone, or with desired sauces.

Recipe excerpt used by permission from Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane.



Interview: Marjorie Ingall

Sunday, May 14, 2017 | Permalink

with Nat Bernstein

Jewish Book Council had the opportunity to talk with Marjorie Ingall about the importance of reading for pleasure, Mark Twain's philosemitism, the history of marketing books to Jewish women, and her parenting guide, Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children, an excellent and enjoyable resource for Jewish and non-Jewish parents alike.

Nat Bernstein: Nefertiti Austen recently wrote an essay about authoring parenting guides for women of color and how no publisher has embraced that market. Do you see the same scarcity for Jewish women, or has Judaism staked a claim on a parenting technique that has a wider appeal in the publishing world?

Marjorie Ingall: Publishing is constantly seeking the widest audience humanly possible. For Mamaleh Knows Best, there was a constant pushback from my editor, who kept asking, “Why do you want to talk about Philip Roth all the time?” For her, it was not universal; she wanted a book on how to use Jewish parenting to make a good goyish child. And I understand that: publishing is so risk-averse now that a niche market is not going to get you a book deal. I can imagine the same thing is happening if publishers assume that only black women will buy a black parenting book. But the stories of my black mother friends—especially mothers of sons—and how the kinds of worries they have are not anything like the kinds of worries I have, that would be beneficial for all Americans to read.

NLB: Since we’re talking about how to market books, can you share more about the history of marketing books and reading to Jewish women?

MI: When publishing became more scalable—when printing presses became more widespread—in the late nineteenth century, it created a colossal market—and not just within the Jewish community—of translations into Yiddish of popular books, a lot of them Romance novels. I write for the Times Book Review, and I think it’s hilarious that the Times pretends that the Romance genre doesn’t exist. Romance is a humongous part of the publishing market, and that was true in the late 1800s, too! Jewish women drove popular fiction.

We also have, in our spiritual line, tchines, these prayer books written by and for Jewish women, and that too was a huge market. They included prayers for a healthy pregnancy, prayers that your child will marry well, prayers for successful breastfeeding. All of this stuff was part of our culture, and it would be cool if more Jewish women knew about it. There were early marketing attempts to get women to buy these tchines: “Women! If you only have a few pennies, isn’t this a good way to spend them, for your own spiritual enlightenment for the whole future?” (If this is something that interests you, the index in the back of my book will give you a lot more places to go with that.)

NLB: You have a really lovely and clever chapter on spirituality, in which you observe that taking your kids to religious services is like taking your kids to a restaurant?

MI: As your kid gets older, you teach them how to behave. I don’t believe you should whisk your kid out the first time they make a peep, but you also don’t let a kid scream and disturb everyone else’s spiritual experience. The only way to acculturate a kid is by giving them the experience: no one is born knowing how to behave in shul! One thing I think the Orthodox Jewish community, in particular, has done really well is tolerating noise and chaos in shul. The first shul I went to with my baby—I wanted to join a Conservative shul that was closest to my house—I was getting such a fisheye when she made any noise that I never went back. I tried joining the family service, but I felt that it was cliquey. I found another congregation where the women in front of me kept turning around and making googly eyes at Josie out of delight, and that’s such a small thing, but it made all the difference.

NLB: In one of the early chapters of Mamaleh Knows Best, you point out that “The world is constantly telling us we’re doing parenting wrong.” Is that “we” specific to women?

MI: Yes. We’ve all seen the dudes in the playground, and everyone says, “You are so awesome for babysitting your kids.” You’re not babysitting, it’s your child! We also see the eight zillion Disney movies that all miraculously have missing mothers. It’s not just Jewish women, it’s all women who are told that however they’re doing things is wrong, which is a function of misogyny. It’s not unique to the Jewish Mother stereotype: if you troll Buzzfeed and all these other media sites now, you see Tiger Moms and black moms—it’s a mom thing, which is a problem.

NLB: It’s interesting how much this anxiety over perpetual perfection is transmitted to kids—you write that you “worry that kids today don’t want to be beginners, don’t want to be imperfect, don’t want to ever to look clueless.”

MI: We are always newly shocked when there are cheating scandals at all these fancy schools, but it happens because we have told these kids that they’re not allowed to fail. Surveys of American teenagers in general show that they see their parents as saying one thing and really thinking another when it comes to what their values are: when it is “be Number One at all costs,” you set up your kid if not to fail, then to certainly think I have to do whatever it takes to be Number One.

NLB: I love the Yiddish proverb you discovered: “The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.” You include it in a chapter about teaching kids to distrust authority, which I imagine runs counter to a lot of the parenting advice out there?

MI: Kids are expected to know what they want to be really early, and aren’t encouraged to mess around and explore and be dreamers and figure out what they really love and value. I don’t think our culture, or the pop culture they absorb, helps them with that. One of my regular rants is about live-action TV aimed at kids, where being a quirky, weird, geeky kid is a subject of mockery. Historically, Jews have been geeks, and it’s been really good for us! We should encourage our kids to have obsessions and passions and not be embarrassed about them.

Always having a little bit of distance and viewing authority with a gimlet eye has always been a good thing for the Jews, as well. It is certainly counter to the stereotype of the Tiger Mom, where the view is that the classroom is a fiefdom in which you do what your teacher wants. For the Jews, disrespecting authority is a thread that has gone through our culture from the beginning, whether we have lived in a time when we had tension with the ruling parties or during a period in history when we were very acculturated and had powerful jobs within the ruling culture. I think it’s telling that we don’t have the equivalent of a pope, that we are a dialogic and diverse and fractured-in-a-good-way kind of people. For a parent and for a creative or scientific mind, being a little bit of an outsider is a good thing.

NLB: On the subject of distrusting authority… What do you see as the greatest challenge facing Jewish parents in the next four years?

MI: Despite the title being in present tense, the intention behind Mamaleh Knows Best was to look back through Jewish history and examine what child-rearing traits seem to have served us well. I feel like I’m not entirely qualified to talk about politics or the future, but I do think that one thing that has been essential for Jews is that we are a people who take care of others. Mark Twain wrote this great essay about why you don’t see Jewish beggars—and it’s not because there aren’t Jewish poor people, it’s because Jews take care of their community. As we are entering the age of a leader who uses Twitter to say mean things about people, we want to be sure that we are talking to our kids about being kind. There are other political figures we can point to and say, “Look at this mentschy behavior.” Making sure that our kids are aware of other people’s suffering and helping other people ameliorate that suffering will help us all: everybody feels better when they are do something good, and we can all do that as both parents and citizens.

NLB: In the book you mention the Hebrew Benevolent Societies of the mid-nineteenth century, which as you note popped up in Jewish communities across the United States—on either side of the Mason-Dixon line—really quite rapidly. These societies were founded by women! And run by women! And they were actually the first instance of American—not just Jewish, American—women mobilizing and establishing their own institutions and assuming positions of leadership in an organized way: the Hebrew Benevolent Societies were really the first independent women’s movement in American history, and this is what opened the door for women abolitionists and suffragists across faiths within the same generation. Religiously, theologically, these charitable organizations weren’t necessarily shaking up a whole lot, but the social fabric of American Judaism was suddenly and drastically being rewoven by Jewish mothers at the time that Twain was writing: the standards he saw in Jewish communities were set by its women. (And his appreciation for those standards allowed him to recognize and even confront antisemitism in other parts of the world, which you write about elsewhere.)

MI: Also, let’s talk about American Jewish education: no one really talks about it, but so much of where American Jewish education started was from Jewish women. An unfortunate thing I discovered was that the women who created Jewish education and the women who created these benevolent societies, a lot of them weren’t mothers. Just as leaders of the feminist movement were not mothers. It’s really hard to have a career and to “have it all.”

NLB: And to find time to read?

MI: A thread throughout the book is to not be a “Do as I say, not as I do” parent. It’s important that our kids see us reading, and see that we enjoy it, and see us reading for pleasure as well as betterment. I include in Mamaleh Knows Best all the statistical backup about how important reading is, how a love of books increases empathy, makes your kid do better in all aspects of school. International studies that correct for income and background still find that in houses where everybody reads, the kids do better. For Jews in general, we are the People of the Book, and literacy has often been our ticket into another class, or to not being so quickly killed. Reading is really, really important.

And reading at home should serve a very different function from reading at school: at home, you need to create a safe space for your kid to really enjoy reading. They want to read the same book a gazillion times, fine. My librarian friends have so many stories about parents coming in and saying, “She’s ready for chapter books, can you not let her take out any more picture books?” I still read picture books, I still bring home picture books for my 12-year-old, and the snobbery about graphic novels makes me want to cry: all reading is good reading.

NLB: You also emphasize the importance of humor in parenting—and in transmitting values. How do you view the current generation of Jewish comedians in popular culture?

MI: In general, acculturation is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s great to have people not killing us, but on the other hand, the distrust of authority and the gimlet eye has worked in our favor: that is a great place for comedy to come from. Comedy is a great tool for questioning authority, for making people like you even when you’re not like them, and for gaining respect. Look at studies about the use of comedy in the office: bosses who have a sense of humor, who embrace a sense of humor, are reviewed much more favorably by their staffs than bosses with no sense of humor or ones who have belittling senses of humor. I think that’s telling.

NLB: I was particularly heartened to read not only how many female comedians you named among the future of Jewish humor, but also how they are changing Jewish humor.

MI: One of the chapters in the book looks at the history of the Jewish Mother stereotype. It’s important to note that the first Jewish Mother in American culture was not this grasping, neurotic stereotype. It was Mrs. Goldberg! This is a woman who was the first recipient of the first Best Actress Emmy, who had a wildly successful radio show followed by a wildly successful TV show. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she was the executive producer of the show. She created a persona that was, yes, a meddler, but she was smart, she was competent, and she was caring.

Now, we are starting to see American Jewish women as executive producers of comedy shows once again. If you look at the Broad City girls, if you look at Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, if you look at Girls, yes, the mother characters are still flawed, but they are flawed in interesting, complicated ways. And you’re going to have flaws, because comedy requires flaws, but not this knee-jerk, dumb, schticky, mocking, disparaging kind of thing. I would like to think that as more and more Jewish women are in charge of their own storytelling, the Jewish Mother figure will become more nuanced—again.

NLB: You’ve succeeded in raising two kickass feminist daughters of your own. Do you have any advice for raising feminist sons?

MI: Nipping any kind of misogynist behavior in the bud and making sure your kid is aware of sexist language, making sure they treat all people with respect, and talking about women’s achievements despite barriers—they should know that historically it has not been a level playing field for women and men, which is something that anti-feminists will not acknowledge. And, this sounds flippant, but it’s not: the best way to raise a feminist son is to let him have an older sister. I can point to my brother as proof.

Nat Bernstein is the contributing editor and manager of digital content, media, and special programs for the Jewish Book Council.


Related Content:


New Reviews May 12, 2017

Friday, May 12, 2017 | Permalink

Featured Content

Behind the Lies of Holocaust Denial
“There are facts, there are opinions, and there are lies.” Watch Deborah E. Lipstadt deliver her TED Talk on Holocaust denial in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Amsterdam’s Jaw-Dropping 17th-Century Jewish Library
A fascinating literary discovery from Jewniverse!

Interview with Miriam Libicki
"We read Marvel comics when I was young, and I was aware pretty early on that comics were a Jewish medium,” graphic essayist and Toward a Hot Jew author Miriam Libicki shares. “Comic art managed to feel Jewish and have some Jewish sensibility to it."

New Books for Young Readers


Max

Interview: Miriam Libicki

Thursday, May 11, 2017 | Permalink

with Michelle Zaurov

Jewish Book Council had the pleasure of featuring Miriam Libicki as part of Ink Bleeds History: Reclaiming and Redrawing the Jewish Image, a panel of graphic stories on the representation of Jews in comics and graphic novels. We followed up with Miriam to discuss her collection of drawn essays, Toward a Hot Jew.

Michelle Zaurov: I notice you talk a lot about graphic artists who are Jewish. Do you feel like being Jewish has had any influence on your relationship with comics or being a comic artist?

Miriam Libicki: We read Marvel comics when I was young, but I think it was Peter David who put a lot of Jewish content in in his ‘80s comics and I was aware pretty early on that comics were a Jewish medium. I grew up Modern Orthodox, so it wasn’t super strict, but I felt like in my schooling and community there was a sense that visual art wasn’t really a thing that Jews do. The notion was that it’s nice for kids to have coloring books, but art is not a serious or intellectual pursuit. I was into fine arts and history of Western art, and that didn’t feel very Jewish to me, whereas comic art managed to feel Jewish somehow and have some Jewish sensibility to it.

MZ: These essays seem to be on disparate topics: you have one about art and another about Jewish identity. Did you mean for them to all go into a cohesive graphic novel?

ML: Well, I did them all separately. It was 10 years’ worth of essays, so I did them all as self-published zines. I was doing comics and going to comic cons, I had an ongoing series, jobnik!, which is about my time in the Israeli army, that morphed into a graphic novel. Whenever I had some rant or thought that I wanted to put in comic form, I would put out one of these drawn essays and sell it at a convention. Once I had two or three of them, I decided that once I had enough of these graphic essays, I would submit the full collection to publishers.

MZ: Why did you decide on these subjects?

ML: It just seems to be what I care about. I didn’t really intend to focus on Jewish subjects, and I think it was a reaction to leaving Israel and coming to Vancouver. I felt that Vancouver was not really a Jewish place after being in Israel, and I was afraid of becoming just another white person. People wouldn’t even perceive me as Jewish, and somehow that bothered me. So, my art at that time started becoming more Jewish. I found myself making excuses to have Jewish themes in my art as a way of asserting my identity that felt comfortable to me. This seemed like an authentic way to express and explore my Judaism on my own, when I didn’t have my community or my whole country reinforcing it.

MZ: How did you feel when you returned to Israel and interviewed actual Israeli citizens after being away?

ML: It was very different. I was grappling with my identity because I had made aliyah, served in the Israeli army, and the idea was to become a real Israeli and not an American tourist, and somehow earn my place in Israeli society. But I moved to Canada right after the army. So, I undermined that whole project and I felt very ambivalent about it for a long time. I still wondered how I could be a part of the Israeli conversation, and that is what the early essays were about: if I can understand the Israeli mindset, then maybe I am still partially Israeli. But, each time I go back, I get more rooted in Canada. I got married, had Canadian kids, and now when I travel with my family to Israel, I won’t even speak Hebrew most of the time. I really feel like a tourist with pretty good Hebrew. And I guess that’s ok. Now I am more interested in defining my Judaism as a Diaspora sort of Judaism rather than an Israeli one. I stopped struggling with it; I don’t feel the need to prove myself as an Israeli anymore.

MZ: On a more general note, what was the most difficult part of the artistic process with this novel?

ML: The part that takes longest is always the art. In order for me to do the art, I need something to keep me going, like a strong story that can sustain all these hours working on art. It’s difficult in the beginning to figure out what I’m writing and why I am writing it. Once I get over that, the rest comes pretty quickly, but the art is still long because I don’t draw or paint fast.

MZ: I noticed that some of your essays lack in color while others are colorful, is there a tactful reason for that?

ML: It was more practical. “Towards a Hot Jew” was meant to be a drawn essay, and it was a breakthrough in what I wanted to do in comics. It’s in black-and-white because I didn’t want to make it more complicated, and it was more about the writing and the ideas rather than the art. I felt like if I added color, I would have worried about the realism of the art. The other ones atr in watercolor because I wanted to teach myself watercolor, and the “Jewish Memoir” was commissioned for an academic anthology publication, and I couldn’t put that in color for cost reasons. The final essay is in a limited orange palette, and that was kind of for the same reason. When I was still two-thirds of the way through the art, I didn’t have a publisher for it, but the idea was that I wanted to get it published in an academic context, like a journal or an anthology. I also knew that this was the essay that would put me over the top for the essay collection in terms of page count.

MZ: In the book, you say that “comic style editorializes human appearance” and “fictionalizes it in order to bring certain aspects of humanity to light.” How have you done that with some of the characters you drew up in this book, and what aspects of humanity did you hope to bring to light?

ML: My avatar in the essays is based on the character that I drew for jobnik!. I kept drawing that character until one felt right to me. Her looks did undergo a transformation over the course of the first few issues and stories I wrote about my army experience. I gave her bigger eyes than mine, but she certainly isn’t glamorous. She’s shorter than me, which is kind of how I feel. Sometimes I feel more slight and observant, and not physically dominating. The eyes are emphasized but the rest of the face is fleshy as well because in my late teens and early twenties I didn’t like my appearance very much. It’s not that she’s hideous; the point that she’s just not glamorous and put together, and her body is sort of lumpy. After that, I didn’t pay attention to how much she looked like me. When I did the essay “Jewish Memoir Goes Pow! Zap! Oy!,” it was the first time I had that character addressing the reader and expressing thoughts on literary criticism. I picked the appearance of what I was redrawing at the time of the jobnik! stories, which was the Miriam character with the short bob cut and casually half out of the army uniform. That suited the tone I was going for with writing the essay about memoirs—it was in the authority of lecturing but in the form of someone human and vulnerable. She not only has a body, but a flawed body, and even when I’m talking about the history of race relations it’s still coming from a human.

MZ: In the “Towards a Hot Jew” essay, you touch upon the sexual stereotypes of Jewish men and women. Do you feel like Jewish stereotypes, specifically of young Israeli soldiers, differ from those of the average young Jew?

ML: Definitely! I feel like there’s a whole thing about soldiers who were the guards in the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian Mall in Jerusalem: those are the soldiers who would get all the action. Now, for the past 15 years, it’s been the armed escort on a Birthright tour. Everyone wants to have their “sex with an Israeli soldier” experience. Among Israelis, soldiers aren’t necessarily seen as sexy, but they know that they’re perceived as such in the rest of the world. I feel like Israelis have caught on that their sex appeal is one of their selling traits, and there’s definitely more of an internal fetish as well. Which is a little bit disturbing because it’s one thing when outsiders think Israelis are sexy and it’s quite another when official branches of the Israeli government are putting up sexy soldier pictures.

MZ: You also talk about how there’s an imperfection that goes with Jewish culture. Do you feel like that plays a role in the sexuality of Jews?

ML: I think so. I feel like sexuality influenced by Christian doctrine, you get the Madonna-whore complex: either the woman is ideal or totally dirty. I would hope that in Judaism, especially since we don’t have a Madonna, that we would have less of that, that someone could be human and still be desirable. Maybe we can avoid putting each other on pedestals; maybe we can acknowledge that we are all not perfect and that we all have big noses and are sexy anyways.

MZ: In one of your essays, you say that “psychoanalysis is a quintessential Jewish pursuit.” What do you mean by that?

ML: A lot of people have made the point that Freud’s middle-class Jewish upbringing was why he had his specific thoughts on familial relationships, that if it weren’t for the very specific German-Jewish family structure Freud grew up with, he wouldn’t have had all those theories about what parents and children relationships are. I definitely feel like psychoanalysis caught on among Jewish people earlier than it did with the mainstream, who were initially largely anti-psychoanalysis or found it disgusting that people went to talk to psychoanalysts about their private life—which is reminiscent of the way they found Jews to be dirty and disgusting. It’s a Jewish thing to believe that you should talk about yourself and acknowledge your flaws, and that talking or complaining about a subject endlessly is a method of taking action to solve problems.

MZ: Do you feel like these Jewish stereotypes were fading when you moved to Canada?

ML: I think people on the West Coast and in Canada had less of these stereotypes than what you might find on the East Coast and the United States. A lot of people aren’t familiar with the Jewish stereotypes out here, let alone Jews. In “Towards a Hot Jew,” I talked about the concept of the Jewish American Princess (“JAP”) being shallow and materialistic. I was doing that project in Canada that asked non-Jewish Canadians if they had a version of the JAP, like a Jewish Canadian Princess, and they uniformly claimed that there isn’t. So I would say there’s a little bit less awareness.

MZ: In the later essays, you were pointing out the downfalls of the Israeli government, like how they have alienated Ethiopian Jews and the Sudanese throughout history. As an Israeli citizen, do you feel a personal guilt on behalf of the government? Or do you feel like you removed yourself from that because you moved away?

ML: I have that guilt, but it’s not huge. Even if I tried to make things different I can’t have that much of an effect: there is no absentee voting in Israel, so I can’t vote unless I made a date to be in Israel on Election Day. I could have more of an influence, but I feel like I can’t be that much of an activist outside of Israel. I do tweet and say “Shame on Netanyahu!” but I feel like there is a real sense in Israel that the rest of the world can’t judge them. The American Jewish community does have a place in talking about Israeli policies, but insofar as to actually effect what happens inside Israel, I’m not sure I can have that much effect as an American/Canadian.

MZ: Why did you decide to end the book on the quote “How can we deliver a message about our humanity from behind the bars of quotation marks?” What does this mean?

ML: That is a quote from the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. He was a World War II refugee who survived a prisoner of war camp, and a philosopher before and after the war. His core idea is empathy, and he was one of the people to really try to define it. He was also an Orthodox Jew and talks about it in spiritual terms, like the image of God. He talks about the need to look beyond categories—when he thinks about categories he thinks of the Germans walking outside of his camp who presumed they were a different kind of humanity than he was. If you have those categories then there’s no way you’ll be able to communicate, and everything you say will just become a symbol of how that person has already defined you. In the essay I was grappling with the ideas of identity politics, that you need to have identity politics because otherwise you have identities and categories and hierarchies that are left unspoken. It’s better to have them spoken, but it’s also important not to retreat so far into them that the only thing you can express is the identity you have been sorted into. It’s important to examine structures and hierarchies but it’s also important to take those and put them in their place and try to see the infinite in all of us, as well.

MZ: Identity and categories and how they shouldn’t be at the forefront of society seems to be a huge emphasis in your essays. Were you raised with this notion?

ML: I think so. My parents were Orthodox, however neither of them grew up Orthodox. My mother was a convert and my dad was more Conservative-Reform. Their attitudes towards Orthodoxy was more about how they chose to live their life and acknowledging that everyone has their own paths in life. They gave me spirituality and tradition but their moral sense was much more universal. I feel like I have the ideas of universal morality and empathy. We all believe there are many paths to the truth and ways to be a good person.

MZ: What are you working on now?

ML: I’m working on a bunch of projects right now. I just worked with the original underground comic artist and comic feminist historian, Trina Robbins. She is putting out a collection of fiction by her father that was published originally in Yiddish, which she found, translated, and adapted as a comic script, which she gave it to different artists to draw. I’m also working on another short piece about graphic -novel responses to the Holocaust. It is closer to fiction than non-fiction, so it’s more of a narrative than an essay. I’m also doing my Masters right now and working on my thesis, which is also a graphic novel.

Michelle Zaurov is a student at Binghamton University in New York, where she studies English and literature. She has worked as a journalist writing for the Home Reporter, a local Brooklyn publication. She enjoys reading realistic fiction and fantasy novels, especially with a strong female lead.


Related Content:


Deborah Lipstadt: Behind the Lies of Holocaust Denial

Monday, May 08, 2017 | Permalink

“There are facts, there are opinions, and there are lies.” Watch Deborah E. Lipstadt deliver her TED Talk on Holocaust denial in the twentieth and twenty-first century:


Related Content:


New Reviews May 5, 2017

Friday, May 05, 2017 | Permalink

Featured Content

Idra Novey Wins the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
Jewish Book Council announces the winners and finalists of the largest award of its kind. Read an interview with Idra Novey, author of Ways to Disappear and recipient of the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

Meet 2017 Sami Rohr Prize Choice Award Winner Daniel Torday
"The dream is for readers to see the world a little more clearly, in a little more detail, and a little more generously, after closing every novel they read. So if they read me, I’m just happy to know that’s what they’re doing when they do it."

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Fellow Paul Goldberg
"I learned as a kid in Moscow in the 1960s that books have power, and writers who are willing to tell the truth run the risk of getting arrested."

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Fellow Adam Ehrlich Sachs
"I want readers of my book to feel that something simple has been made needlessly complex, and to find this, for some reason, amusing."

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist Rebecca Schiff
"I was in third grade when I first decided to be a writer. Our teacher had us hand in a new short story every two weeks. I also remember revising one of my stories after school in my parents' bedroom. It was the first time I noticed that I cared about sentences."

Interview with Yaakov Katz, Author of The Weapon Wizards
The Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief discusses his new book, The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower.

Interview: Yaakov Katz

Thursday, May 04, 2017 | Permalink

with Philip K. Jason

Yaakov Katz is editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post. He previously served for close to a decade as the paper's military reporter and defense analyst. Katz was a 2012 – 2013 fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University and is currently a faculty member at Harvard's Extension School, where he teaches an advanced course in journalism. He is the co-author of two books, The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower and Israel vs. Iran: The Shadow War.

Philip K. Jason: In The Weapon Wizards, you observe that Israel's enemies have not ceased building arsenals of rockets and missiles, even though Israel's Iron Dome and Arrow systems have rendered such stockpiles ineffective. Is any hope that more elaborate defensive (or offensive) weapons will change the operations of Hezbollah and Hammas?

Yaakov Katz: Originally, when Israel developed its missile defense systems, it hoped that their success would make Israel's enemies—particularly Hamas and Hezbollah—reconsider their investment in missile systems. The theory was that they would see that their missiles are ineffective and would understand that it is not worth investing in. That has not happened.

This does not mean that the missile defense systems are not effective. They are and they save Israeli lives. They have also given the government what we call “Diplomatic Maneuverability”, the ability to think before responding to rocket attacks, rather than being drawn into a conflict immediately. The systems have taken a weapon that could be of strategic consequences and turned them into a tactical issue that does not necessarily need to evolve into war.

PKJ: If there is no military solution to Israel's quest for an end to war, can resources be allocated to programs more likely to be successful?

YK: Military means are not an end to conflict but a means to be used to reach a diplomatic resolution. Although this has not yet happened for Israel when it comes to Hamas and Hezbollah, it has worked though with the two countries Israel made peace with, Egypt and Jordan. Both countries understood, after defeat on the battlefield, that war will not overcome Israel. Israel continues to invest in additional defense and offensive programs, which will help keep Israelis safe and ensure that wars are fought quicker. But they will not defeat an enemy's desire to destroy Israel.

PKJ: What are the benefits to Israel of its astounding success in weapon development, manufacture, and sales?

YK: The first clear benegit is that by developing top-tier weaponry, Israeli ensures its qualitative military edge in a very volatile region and as more potential conflicts loom on the horizon. The second benefit is economic: Israel today is one of the world's top arms exporters and brings in about $6.5 billion annually to the Israeli economy in arms sales.

PKJ: How did you and your coauthor, Amir Bohbot, "share the load" of creating this book?

Amir and I are both veteran military correspondents who have worked closely together covering Israel's different wars and operations since the early part of the 2000s. We split up the writing based on chapters: I wrote one chapter and he wrote another. The process was a bit more complicated. First, we would meet before starting to work on a new chapter. We would brainstorm for a while and the draft a chapter outline together—what stories will be there, who needs to be interviewed, etc. After spending one or two months researching and writing, when the chapter was done we’d share it with one another. Each of us would then add what was needed, make other comments, and then meet again to complete it. It was a genuine partnership.

PKJ: In the process of writing this book, did you discover any surprises? Did your research lead you to modify your views on anything, or anyone, connected with this topic?

YK: Coming into the project, both Amir and I were intimately familiar with the IDF and its different units. What we discovered while doing the research for this book was just how innovative the military was when it comes to the technology that it uses. Our research also gave us the opportunity to meet the scientists, engineers and officers who invented and came up with the ideas for some of Israel's unique weapon systems like the first drones, Iron Dome or the Ofek satellite. The stories behind each and every one of these weapons is what surprised us.

PKJ: Have any of Israel's developments in weapon technology been applied in other areas?

YK: Yes. Cameras and sensors, for example, originally developed for weapon systems like satellites or drones, can also be used for agricultural purposes. One company took a camera from a missile and integrated into a pill that a person can swallow so doctors can see what is happening inside that person's stomach.

PKJ: Who would you consider the ideal readers for your book? What are the most important ideas or pieces of information you'd like them to come away with?

We envision four different audiences: people interested in Israel, people interested in military affairs, entrepreneurs and business executives, and anyone looking to understand the future of the Middle East. We would like readers to walk away with a deeper understanding of just how important a role technology and weapons play when it comes to Israel's survival and its continued qualitative edge in a very volatile region. The stories told in this book show an amazing sense of innovation, creativity, and ingenuity in a country that was the established without any resources. When Israel was founded in 1948 there was only one resource—the Jewish brain—and that is what enabled Israel to survive. We are all familiar with the saying "Necessity is the mother of invention." But we like to stick to the dictum told to us by the IDF colonel who came up with the idea in 1977 for Israel to build its own satellite: "The shadow of the guillotine sharpens the mind."

Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore magazine, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don't Wave Goodbye: The Children's Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.


Related Content:


Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist Paul Goldberg

Wednesday, May 03, 2017 | Permalink

Jewish Book Council is proud to introduce readers to the five emerging fiction authors named as finalists for the 2017 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Today, we invite you to learn more about Paul Goldberg and his book, The Yid, a novel about the hijinks of a troupe of Russian Jews plotting to assassinate Stalin in February, 1953.

A warm congratulations to Paul and the other four finalists: Idra Novey, Adam Ehrlich Sachs, Rebecca Schiff, and Daniel Torday. Join Jewish Book Council on May 3, 2017 at The Jewish Museum for a discussion with the authors and announcement of the recipient of the $100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature! Register for free tickets here »

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

I have a full-time job- as a reporter. It's heavy-duty investigative reporting. Plus, I run and write for The Cancer. The most challenging aspect for writing fiction is clearing the brain space to sit down and do it. Please don't mistake this for whining: having to fight to find the time and space to write, generates a sense of urgency. You can't fake that—it has to be real.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I learned as a kid in Moscow in the 1960s that books have power, and writers who are willing to tell the truth run the risk of getting arrested. I remember Moscow being abuzz about publication of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, the arrests and trial of Daniel' and Sinyavski, the trial of Iosif Brodski, and, of course, Solzhenitsyn's battles with the authorities. Fiction allows you to tell the truth—and that's the ultimate privilege.

Who is your intended audience?

I try not to think about that. My job is to tell the story.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I have just turned in my next novel, The Chateau. It's scheduled for publication in February 2018. The Chateau is set in South Florida. It's about a building full of Trump-supporting former Soviet Jews. Would anyone be surprised to learn that the Board of Directors of the Chateau is full of crooks?

What are you reading now?

Everything Brecht. I am going through every play. This is a great time for Brecht.

Top 5 favorite books

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgokov

Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Evgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

I was a child in Moscow. My father is a journalist and a poet, so since the day I was born I knew that it's possible to write and knew many people who did. Journalism is great—my job is a privilege—but a novelist can drill deeper into the truth and its inverse.

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

I am happy where I am.

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

I love running away to Vermont for a month in the summer and a month in the winter. I end up telecommuting, so I am working full time in my day job. I am much more productive in Vermont. In the summer, it has something to do with picking mushrooms—a great Russian pastime. And I am a fiend on my bicycles. In the winter, it's about cross-country skiing, being alone in the woods, or watching my dogs run ahead. It's a happy place, like Russia with mountains and without kleptocracy. I finished three of my most recent books in Vermont.

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

As a novelist, I write about the intelligentsia and fascism, and how the two clash. I treat fascism as a polarity rather than an isolated historical event. It's been with us for centuries, and it has not gone away. The other part of it is my obsession with people who have the nobility of the spirit to stand up for the truth. This is my material.

Paul Goldberg first heard a Moscow version of the myth about Jews using blood for religious rituals when he was ten, in 1969. By the time he emigrated to the US in 1973, he had collected the Moscow stories that underpin The Yid. As a reporter, Goldberg has written two books about the Soviet human rights movement, and has co-authored (with Otis Brawley) the book How We Do Harm, an expose of the U.S. healthcare system. He is the editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter, a publication focused on the business and politics of cancer. He lives in Washington, D.C.


Related Content: