The ProsenPeople

Auschwitz-Birkenau, January 27, 2015: A Poem

Friday, January 30, 2015 | Permalink

During this past week's ceremony at Auschwitz to mark the 70th anniversary of its liberation, Menachem Z. Rosensaft penned a poem to commemorate the memorial, which he shares with JBC readers below.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, January 27, 2015

no longer visible flames
still burn
will always burn
have burned my brother's tiny body
for seventy-one years
five months, twenty-three days
since he became only a memory
my, our mother's memory
now my inheritance
in a huge tent we sit
three thousand of us
warmly dressed
and I see where
my mother was unable to kiss
her child
one last time
I cannot feel him shiver
I cannot hear him cry
I cannot smell the gas
perhaps I am breathing
his ashes

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is the editor of the recently published book God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing).

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, January 30, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

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We’ve Got the Moves: Jewish Madness on Madison Avenue

Thursday, January 29, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Kerri P. Steinberg wrote about the Jewish women in advertising a in 1960s New York. She is the author of the recently published book Jewish Mad Men: Advertising and the Design of the American Jewish Experience and has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Growing up in the seventies fully embracing the spirit of funk and disco music in my fancy footwork and swiveling hips, my ears took it hard upon hearing that Jews have no rhythm. I, for one, knew otherwise. Even if this assertion were true, I would argue that what some Jews lack on the dance floor others have more than offset with the quick tempo and intellectual wittiness they have contributed to American advertising.

Historically, Jews had to be one step ahead to out-maneuver a hostile world, especially during the height of anti-Semitic pogroms in the late nineteenth century. Quick thinking, adaptability, and resilience—all synonymous with creativity—became instruments of survival both in the Old World and as they transitioned into the new. The Jewish fondness for text found new forms of expression in an open society, one of them being copywriting. Beginning with Albert Lasker in the 1920s (sole owner at age 32 of the Chicago based agency Lord and Thomas, later to become Foote, Cone & Belding), Jews have had an affair with copywriting. Catchy klitchiks (an unexpected twist in a piece of copy) made much Jewish copywriting memorable. Of course, there were the legendary taglines that spelled out a product’s Jewish associations like, “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish to Love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye,” scripted by Jewish copywriters at the two-thirds Jewish owned firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB). But from “Mama mia, I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” to “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is,” to “Try it, you’ll like it,” even non-Jewish products like Alka Seltzer—first a client of DDB, then a client of the swanky 1960s agency Wells, Rich, Greene—have a whiny, deprecating, Jewish sensibility to thank for their notoriety.

From the birth of copywriting in the twenties, to the creative revolution of the sixties, attributed to DDB, Jewish cleverness has certainly made a lasting impression on Madison Avenue. Equally, if not more interesting though, is how advertising brought Jews from the outside to the inside of American life. Sure, Jewish moves on Madison Avenue shaped the industry. But, all the mundane ads that, albeit unknowingly, integrated the klitchik or the questioning sensibility of New York Jews, unknowingly also universalized the particularities of Jews. Intrusive and colonizing of our precious space and time, advertising can easily be dismissed as the background chatter of modern life. However, it is precisely because of its ubiquitous presence and influence that we should heed advertising. Doing so teaches us how Jews moved on Madison Avenue, and how Madison Avenue moved the Jews.

Kerri P. Steinberg is an associate professor of art history at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

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Remaining Russian Through Food

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 | Permalink
This week, Boris Fishman—the author of A Replacement Life, just released in paperback from HarperCollins
blogs for The Postscript on one of his favorite paragraphs in his book and the importance of food. 

The Postscript series is a special peek "behind the scenes" of a book. It's a juicy little extra something to add to a book club's discussion and a reader's understanding of how the book came together. 

To "host" Boris at your next book club meeting, request him through JBC Live Chat

One of my favorite passages in my debut novel, A Replacement Life— the story of a failed young writer who starts forging Holocaust- restitution claims for old Russian Jews in Brooklyn who have suffered, “but not in the exact way [they] need to have suffered in order to qualify” — appears on page 20 and has no verbs or adjectives; there isn’t even a complete sentence in it. It’s a list. I reproduce it here, along with the preceding paragraph for context. The young writer’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, has just passed away, and he makes his first return to south Brooklyn, where so many Russian-Americans live, in over a year — he has been trying to force his past out of his life — for her funeral and commemoration. (The first names in the first paragraph refer to the home aides that looked after his grandmother when she was ill.) 

Slava used to sit at one of these tables once a week, the cooking by a Berta or a Marina or a Tatiana, uniformly ambrosial, as if they all attended the same Soviet Culinary School No. 1. Stout women, preparing to grow outward even if they hadn’t reached thirty, in tights decorated with polka dots or rainbow splotches, the breasts falling from their sailor shirts, their shirts studded with rhinestones, their shirts that said Gabbana & Dulce.

Stewed eggplant; chicken steaks in egg batter; marinated peppers with buckwheat honey; herring under potatoes, beets, carrots, and mayonnaise; bow-tie pasta with kasha, caramelized onions, and garlic; ponchiki with mixed-fruit preserves; pickled cabbage; pickled eggplant; meat in aspic; beet salad with garlic and mayonnaise; kidney beans with walnuts; kharcho and solyanka; fried cauliflower; whitefish under stewed carrots; salmon soup; kidney beans with the walnuts swapped out for caramelized onions; sour cabbage with beef; pea soup with corn; vermicelli and fried onions.

I am often asked in what way I remain Russian more than a quarter of a century after my family left the Soviet Union, when I was nine. I feel no political kinship with the Soviet Union’s fallout republics (I was born in Belarus), and the one return visit I made, in 2000, excavated powerful sensory memories but left me with an equally powerful distaste for the lack of civility, paranoia, and xenophobia that continues to thrive there. So my answer tends to refer to the Russian literature that was my path back to my home culture after I’d spent a decade in America trying to forget it; the language, earthy and comic and supple and brusque; and the food. Is it because professional opportunity — not to mention other forms of personal expression, such as religious identity — was so much more circumscribed in the Soviet Union that so much more ceremony and ritual significance was given to meals and community? All I can say is that to this day, my family — its opportunities and self-expression circumscribed in America all the same, due to imperfect English, advanced age, and plain shyness — sits down to meals as to a great respite from the ordeals of the day. Great care is taken to prepare the meal, almost always at home, from scratch; it is pounced upon with an equally great hunger that sometimes feels spiritual more than alimentary. The food is gone in a third of the time it took to prepare. It’s not the French or Italian model. 

There may be another reason. Looking from America, Russian food feels like a paradox. (I am calling it “Russian” only as an economical shorthand; there is as much French as Central Asian influence in it, and Jewish, too, if buried — a Ukrainian Orthodox woman I know had been making kasha varnishkes for decades before she realized its provenance.) Industrial agriculture, with its reliance on chemicals and preservatives, was never practiced in the Soviet Union to the degree that it is in America; strawberries used to taste like strawberries there, and you could count on finding them for sale only in late summer. (Things have changed somewhat now, but in today’s Ukraine, for instance, Belarussian food products sell at a premium because Belarus avoids GMOs; products advertise this prominently. Isn’t that something? The Soviets were local and organic — and progressive on GMO usage and labeling — long before all this caught on in America.) But neither was health-consciousness a priority in the same way; when it wasn’t butter in the pan, it was sunflower oil, and lots of it. So, well-raised products cooked in the good stuff: Perhaps it’s no mystery why Russians love to eat. 

Because food is so important both to the novel and its author — so much so that, having finished my second novel, out from HarperCollins next year, I am contemplating a Ukrainian cookbook as my third project — I invite you to make it a part of your book club discussion of A Replacement Life. Cross-pollination is welcome: One club, in Knoxville, TN, fortified its discussion with vodka and lox. If there’s a Russian grocery store nearby, raid the shelves. And if you’re willing to try your own hand at a staple of the Russian table, I include a recipe for borshch from the woman whose cooking I want to highlight in the Ukrainian cookbook. I went down to south Brooklyn, where she looks after my grandfather, just last night, and made it together with her. You won’t regret the (not very taxing) effort. And in case it’s your discussion that needs fortification, I am also including a handful of discussion questions. Finally, I am available through the JBC Live Chat program to call or Skype into your book club if that would be of interest; you can reach me at 

Happy eating, reading, and talking: The Jewish national pastimes. 

Oksana’s Borshch 

The night before, boil three medium-size beets (anywhere from forty minutes to an hour and change depending on their size and age). Leave the skin on and refrigerate. This helps the beet keep its color and not blanch when it’s cooking the next day. 

You can make the soup with plain water, or ready-made stock, but you can also make your own — with chicken bones, meat on, or pork bones, ditto, or beef bones. In a 3L pot, cover the bones with 2L of water and bring to a boil. Once the stock is boiling and the surface has covered with fat skimmings from the meat, remove the bones, empty the pot of the liquid, and wash it out get rid of the film on the sides. Refill with 2L of water and return to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and slide the lid slightly off to prevent it from boiling too hard.

Day of: 
- Bring the stock to a boil, then lower to medium heat and slide the lid slightly off. 
- Peel three medium-size potatoes, and cube. 
- Peel one medium-size parsnip and dice into disks, halving the larger slices. 
- Wash and de-seed one jalapeno, and dice into tiny pieces. 
- Shred a quarter of a medium-size cabbage head. 
- Add all of it — they require the same cooking time — into the boiling pot, along with one nearly full tablespoon of salt. The soup stays at medium heat, lid slightly off. 

While vegetables are cooking (one hour): 
- Peel and grate two big carrots. 
- Peel and cube one medium-to-large onion. 
- Cover the bottom of a saute pan generously with oil (Oksana uses corn oil) 
- Add the onions and saute until they are golden-brown. 
- Add carrots and keep sauteing until they are cooked all the way. If you throw in carrot sooner, it will give off a lot of juice and the mixture will braise rather than saute. 
- Add a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste using a dry spoon. (Wet spoon will cause mold in the paste. To preserve tomato paste after opening a can, cover with oil.) 
- Press or grate two large garlic cloves into the soup 

- Skin the beets — if you run them under water, the skin should come off in your fingers. 
- Dice into relatively small pieces 

After the soup has been going for an hour: 
- A dusting of coriander and curry into the soup (Spices get tossed in with about 20% cooking time left. Otherwise, the flavor isn’t sharp.) - Slide the onion/carrot/tomato paste/garlic mixture into soup 
- Deglaze pan with water and add to soup 
- Add 1/2 tbsp. of Vegeta or salt to taste 
- Add the beets and turn heat to low. Add salt to taste. Does it need acidity? Options: Lemon, vinegar, the brine of pickled cabbage. (Oksana added 2 tbsp 4% vinegar.) 
- Add one teaspoon of white sugar. - Add a generous helping of dill. (Oksana’s was from the freezer.) 
- Press or grate two large heads of garlic into the soup. 
- Add a little bit more salt to taste — borshch always tastes like it needs salt the next day. 
- Turn the heat to high; at the first signs of boiling, shut it off or the beets will start to lose color. (When reheating, reheat only serving portions — not the entire pot.) 

Leave for the next day.

Boris Fishman was born in Belarus and immigrated to the United States at the age of nine. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, The London Review of Books, and other publications. He lives in New York. Just out in paperback, A Replacement Life is his first novel. It received a rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review — “Is there room in American fiction for another brilliant young émigré writer? There had better be, because here he is. Boris Fishman’s first novel, ‘A Replacement Life,’ is bold, ambitious and wickedly smart... The only problem with this novel is that its covers are too close together... Undoubtedly, comparisons will be made — to Bellow and the Roths (Henry and Philip).” — and was selected by The New York Times as one of its 100 Notable Books of 2014, by Barnes & Noble for its Discover Great New Writers program and as a finalist for Jewish Book Council's Sami Rohr Prize.

Jewish Mad Women

Monday, January 26, 2015 | Permalink

Kerri P. Steinberg is an associate professor of art history at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. She is the author of the recently published book Jewish Mad Men: Advertising and the Design of the American Jewish Experience and will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

For the last several years, American viewers have fallen under the spell of Peggy Olsen, the copywriting sensation at Sterling Cooper on AMC’s series, “Mad Men.” In the span of seven seasons, the show’s enthusiasts have watched Peggy evolve from Underdog to Wonder Woman; from ponytail innocence to lighting up and sluggin’ ‘em down with the big boys on Madison Avenue. What is it about Peggy that strikes such a fascinating chord? Aside from secretaries and some copywriters, women were a rare species in the mad world of mid-century American advertising. But this woman—Peggy—is a composite character (albeit non-Jewish) of the actual female sensations on Madison Avenue, many of whom were Jewish. If it seems that she is larger than life, it is probably because she is.

Being both Jewish and a woman in the world of Madison Avenue advertising was a double negation. Accordingly, Jews and women largely worked behind the scenes in mainstream advertising, while non-Jewish, male account executives wined and dined clients to procure and secure business. Those women who were fortunate enough to move up the professional ladder and receive a promotion from secretary to copywriter typically found themselves working on accounts deemed appropriate for women, including beauty, household, food, and beverage products. As women, they brought a different point of view. More conversational, they captured how consumers felt: “Clairol—it lets me be me,” expressed Jewish copywriter, Shirley Polykoff.

Indeed, the Jewish women of Madison Avenue knew a thing or two about trying harder; and their efforts actually moved the needle of consumption. When, in 1962, Doyle Dane Bernbach copywriter, Paula Green penned the proverbial copy for Avis Rental Cars, “We’re Number Two. We Try Harder,” she might as well have been writing her own epigraph as a Jewish female copywriter. Likewise in the '60s, Doyle Dane Bernbach copywriters Judy Protas and Julian Koenig, and chief copywriter Phyllis Robinson, were able to use their outsider status to convert the Volkswagen Beetle from Nazi anti-hero to American countercultural darling. By some accounts, this accomplishment ranks as one of the greatest triumphs of modern advertising, signaling its pull and power.

Last January, an obituary for Judy Protas, credited her for scripting the now infamous tagline for Levy’s Rye Bread in 1961, “You Don’t Have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye.” Typically associated with the firm’s namesake, Bill Bernbach (who didn’t deny it), the reader is reminded of the invisibility of women, and more specifically, Jewish women on Madison Avenue during these years. Their efforts and dedication to their profession often came at great personal sacrifice. Like AMC’s Peggy Olsen, Protas remained alone, survived by her nieces and nephews. Like Peggy, Judy was married to her craft. If you are a believer that advertising colors our world and, for better or worse, moves people to action, the least we can do is pay tribute to this rare species of Jewish Mad Women, and assign to their lives the recognition and value they deserve.

Check back later this week to read more from Kerri P. Steinberg.

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Interview with Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Monday, January 26, 2015 | Permalink

by Nat Bernstein

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is the editor of the recently published God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (Jewish Lights Publishing). Jewish Book Council had the opportunity to discuss his book with him and learn more about his process.

Nat Bernstein: I’m interested in the process of making this book, particularly because you included such a wide range of writers. How did you select and seek out contributors? Did you approach each one with a specific theme, or did you organize all of the essays into the four parts of God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes after collecting the entire body of writing?

Menachem Z. Rosensaft: One of my principal goals was to have as broad and diverse a representation of children and grandchildren of survivors, known in shorthand as 2Gs and 3Gs—religiously, politically, professionally, geographically, etc.—as possible. And I wanted each to be accomplished and recognized in his or her chosen field. Of course, I have known many of those whom I invited to contribute to the book for a long time, some for decades, but there are also a large number whom I knew only by reputation. In addition, numerous friends and colleagues generously gave of their time and made recommendations.

It was extremely important to me that the book should not be seen as having an agenda, as it were. Since 2Gs and 3Gs are not in any way a politically, theologically, or intellectually homogeneous group, the book had to reflect all our views, beliefs and perspectives. In my letter inviting 2Gs and 3Gs to participate in this project, I made clear that the book was not meant to have an introspective or psycho-social focus, asking each of them to write about how their respective knowledge of their parents’ or grandparents’ experiences during and after the Shoah have shaped their lives, thoughts and careers. The book, most simply put, was meant to reflect what we believe, who we are, and how that informs what we are doing.

I had no idea at the outset what the essays for would be like, and I did not want to influence or predetermine what the different contributors would write; I therefore gave them a great deal of leeway. For example, I expected the Rabbis in the book to emphasize issues of faith, and most but not all did so. At the same time, equally profound and poignant religious points were made by 2Gs and 3Gs who are not trained or ordained theologians.

NLB: What has the response been since the book’s publication? Did you have an objective in mind when you set out to compile God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes, and if so do you feel that it has been met?

MZR: The response has been extraordinary and, most gratifying to me, uniformly positive. I wanted the book to convey an image—which I believe to be an accurate one—of 2Gs and 3Gs not as somehow traumatized or weighed down by our identity and heritage, but rather as a collective of creative, highly intelligent, often brilliant, in many cases iconoclastic individuals endowed with a balanced, forward-looking view of the world and our different roles within it. I also want readers of the book to come away with an understanding and appreciation that who we are is a direct result and reflection of who our parents and grandparents were or are. I think it’s clear that almost without exception, the contributors to God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes see our parents or grandparents as role models and sources of strength, and that our accomplishments are a tribute to them.

I want the book to be read widely not just by members of the Jewish community but also by non-Jews, and it is my fervent hope that it will comfort and inspire the victims and descendants of victims of other genocides and atrocities. After all, if the survivors could emerge from the horrors of the Shoah 70 years ago and, instead of turning their back on humankind—something they would have had every right to do—chose to rebuild their lives in new, not always welcoming surroundings and to start new families, and that we, their children and grandchildren, consider their legacy to be not a burden but a hallowed birthright , then there is no reason why the victims and the descendants of victims of genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia or Darfur, or of atrocities in Syria or elsewhere, cannot do so as well.

NLB: Is there a voice or perspective missing from this collection? Whether by intention or by happenstance, do you feel that there are narratives that didn’t make into the book?

MZR: Unfortunately, the book—like all books—had a length limitation, which meant that I could not include all the 2Gs and 3Gs I wanted to include. For each contributor whose essay is in the book, there are many whom I simply could not invite because of this space limitation. Also, Stuart Matlins, the editor in chief and publisher of Jewish Lights Publishing, and I worked very closely together to have as much balance in the book as possible, and not to have any one perspective—again, whether religious, political, geographic, or professional—overshadow the others. We also had to limit the number of contributors from any one field—academics, novelists, judges, physicians, reporters, psychologists, political activists, etc.—and to make sure that we had a broad geographic distribution. As a result, I regret that I simply could not invite many talented and interesting individuals whose narratives would have been extremely significant.

NLB: What did you learn from and through working on this project? Has the process been what you expected?

MZR: Reading the essays confirmed that the 2Gs and 3Gs are as diverse and as multi-dimensional as their parents and grandparents. It is important to bear in mind at all times that the common stereotype of the victims of the Shoah—both the dead and its survivors—while not inaccurate, conveys only part of the picture. The popular images of the murdered Six Million include a mother or father comforting a child on their way into a gas chamber, rabbis and devout Jews praying in ghettos and death camps, the idealistic Anne Frank in her hiding place before she and her family were betrayed and taken to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, and heroic partisans or ghetto resistance fighters. And they all, of course, were there in what Alexander Donat called the “Holocaust Kingdom.” But so were Zionists from Bialystok, Jewish socialists from Budapest and Jewish Communist from Brussels, as well as Jewish shop owners from Warsaw, Jewish intellectuals and artists from Paris, the assimilated Jewish industrialist from Berlin, the Jewish entertainer from Vienna, the Jewish diamond cutter from Antwerp, and the Jewish boxer from Amsterdam. As is clear from the essays in God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes, the children and grandchildren of the survivors are just as heterogeneous. One unexpected dimension of the essays turned out to be the absence of redundancy. While there are common themes, each of the contributors to the book carved out an individual niche for herself or himself with the result that the book is, I believe, a mosaic in which each element is an integral and essential part of the whole.

NLB: If you were to add a fifth section to God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes, what would it be? Who, according to your vision, would be included in it?

MZR: This might be counter-intuitive, but there are those 2Gs and 3Gs who do not identify with or speak about this aspect of their identity—or who consciously or subconsciously do not consider their parents’ or grandparents’ Holocaust experiences and memories to be a contributing factor in who they are. Thus, for example, even though Billy Joel is the son of a German-Jewish refugee, he has never, to the best of my knowledge, made any attempt to even acknowledge Holocaust memory in his lyrics. His one “social consciousness” song, We Didn’t Start the Fire, merely sandwiches Eichmann, without commentary, between Hemingway and Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi novel, Strangers in a Strange Land, among the personalities and events that Joel sees as epitomizing the second half of the twentieth century. It would be fascinating, I think, to engage with him and others in whose lives a legacy of Holocaust memories seems not to play a decisive role in a dialogue.

NLB: What are you working on next?

MZR: I primarily have to devote my time to and concentrate my energies on my responsibilities as General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress and on my classes and students at Columbia Law School and Cornell Law School. Having said this, my to-do List includes a book based on my lectures and the assigned readings for my courses on the law of genocide and war crimes trials, a volume of the poems I have written over the years, and, eventually, a collection of my essays and articles about controversies I have been involved in and issues I considered significant enough to write about.

Nat Bernstein is the JBC Network Coordinator at the Jewish Book Council and a graduate of Hampshire College.

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The ProsenPshat: Week of January 19th

Friday, January 23, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The ProsenPshat is a weekly recap of highlights from each week’s online content on Worried you might have missed something this week? Be sure to check our featured reviews page and scroll through The ProsenPeople blog!

Hot on the heels of the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards announcement, this week the Jewish Book Council released the names and titles of the five finalists for the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. Congratulations to Molly, Yelena, Boris, Kenneth, and Ayelet!

The Sami Rohr Prize alternates year to year between fiction and nonfiction. Roger Cohen, a columnist for The New York Times, would approve: his own method requires a complete separation between journalism and his writing as a novelist. In his Visiting Scribe guest blog this week, Cohen described the difficulties of trying to report and write at the same time:

There’s a book-writing side to my mind and a journalist’s side. I tried for a while to write one column a week and push forward with The Girl from Human Street in my spare time. This set-up did not work well. I needed to leave that windmill behind, completely. Having the blades coming at me more slowly still locked me in the columnist’s mindset. Only when I went on leave for some months did the book begin to take form.

A column, in general, relies on pithiness, brevity, synthesis. There is little room for narrative or character development. Its form could not be at a greater remove from a book. I like both forms but cannot flit from one to the other.

Cohen also wrote about the recent events in Paris, reflecting on the historical cycle of French antisemitism and his role as a Zionist, Jewish journalist 120 years after Theodor Herzl reported on the Dreyfus Affair.

Life’s patterns, the personal and the political, how one contains the other, how time is not linear but may eddy in circles: these have been and remain the themes that interest me most.

Laura Silver also guest blogged on The ProsenPeople this week, focusing on her area of expertise: the knish. Happily for the hungry, she shared a map of the best knish places in metropolitan New York.

Between Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and all the Jewish buzz around Ava DuVernay’s timely film Selma, this week seemed like an appropriate time to revisit the Jewish Book Council’s reading list on Justice, Civil Rights, and Race Relations in America. And, with the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade several days later, we also took another literary look at Jewish Feminist Perspectives, with a section of recommended reads curated by JOFA—the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

This week we published new reviews of a biography of the Talumd; a novel based on the true story of a Dutch pharmacuedical company; the true murder mystery of Avraham “Yair” Stern’s demise; an anthology of contemporary Jewish American poetry; an examination of Leonard Bernstein’s life and music; and an update on the Jews of Latin America. Intrigued? You can find this week’s reviews here.

Don't forget to tune in for the National Jewish Book Club online talk with Alyson Richman, author of The Lost Wife and The Garden of Letters, next week on Tuesday, January 27!

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Book Cover of the Week: A Replacement Life, in Paperback

Friday, January 23, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

JBC Network author and National Jewish Book Award finalist Boris Fishman recently announced the release of a paperback edition of his acclaimed debut novel, A Replacement Life. HarperCollins decided to go with drastically different design for the new book cover:

If you find Boris's writing as intriguing as we do, you should definitely hear him speak about his process in crafting and publishing a book—and about his identity as a Jewish Russian author. And we have the perfect opportunity to do so: come here Boris in conversation with Yelena Akhtiorskaya, author of Panic in a Suitcase, and Gal Beckerman, winner of the 2012 Samir Rohr Prize for When They Come for Us We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry, on the literary Russian Jewish American experience as part of Unpacking the Book, a new Jewish Book Council author discussion series at the Jewish Museum, moderated by Wall Street Journal associate books editor Bari Weiss. Not to be missed!

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New Jewish Book Council Reviews

Friday, January 23, 2015 | Permalink

This week's new Jewish Book Council reviews:

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A Guide for the Perplexed Knish-o-phile

Thursday, January 22, 2015 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Laura Silver wrote about the knish as an instrument of social justice. She is the author of the book Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food and has been blogging here this week for Jewish Book Council's Visiting Scribe series.

Dumplings and samosas and empanadas may have become the prominent street foods of modern-day New York, but they have not completely eclipsed the pastry beloved by Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Baschevis Singer, Molly Picon and Joan Rivers.

Enough with the complaining. You can find a good knish, you just have to know where to look. Sure, the knish will never be exactly as it was in 1950, 1960 or even 1975. It’s rare — but not impossible — to find a person selling knishes on the Coney Island boardwalk or the sands of Brighton Beach. In the last few years I’ve received multiple (and unrelated) reports of a man who has revived the “Hot Knishes” cry of years past and a woman who sells homemade potato pies from a shopping cart on Sundays, overlooking the ocean, off Stillwell Avenue, a stone’s throw from Nathan’s.

If you’re not game for the chase, more than two dozen bricks and mortar establishments offer savory and sweet pies of Eastern European Jewish origin. Yonah Shimmel’s on Manhattan’s Houston Street and Knish Nosh on Queens Boulevard (with a satellite location on the tony shores of Central Park’s Conservatory Water) are the best known, but they are far from alone. Knish-positive kosher delis and specialty shops mark the five boroughs and beyond. Finding a good knish involves adopting a posture of humility, harnessing a sense of adventure and honing one’s knish-dar. Not all of the entries are obvious to the uninitiated. Judy’s Knishes, founded by Lower East Side native Judy Hiller-Schwartz, is headquartered in the Avenue A-based kitchen of its namesake, and expects to gain a foothold at Malt and Mold, the neighborhood’s high-end beer-and-cheese purveyor in the coming months. (Fellow knish entrepreneur Noah Wildman of KnisheryNYC sold his potato and kasha wares there to the delight of Florence Fabricant.)

If all else fails, there’s a map. The initial iteration of this first-ever knish lover’s guide details more than thirty hot spots, from Manhattan to the greater metropolitan area, and is growing daily in entries and geographic reach. But it’s just the beginning. This map works best when knish-o-philes and curmudgeons alike contribute insider tips.

Feast your eyes and don’t be shy. Our communal knish consciousness depends on you. All flavors welcomed; no opinion too heated.

Share your favorite local or international knish spot at

Laura Silver is an award-winning journalist whose writing on food and culture has appeared in The New York Times and the Forward and on NPR. Laura has been a writer in residence at the Millay Colony, the Banff Centre, and the New York Public Library. She is considered the world’s leading expert on the knish.

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