The ProsenPeople

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 www.jewishbookcouncil.org. 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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The ProsenPshat: Week of January 12th

Friday, January 16, 2015 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

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

Big week here at the Jewish Book Council. We got an earlier start than usual with a Sunday-morning planning meeting with one of the JBC Network member sites and their community partners—a smart event that lead to a wider discussion on the role of book programs in the Jewish community:

It's important to remember—and to remind everyone you work with, across departments—that authors know so much more than the art of writing. They take subject matter and craft it into a story we can't put down, we can't ignore—precisely because those stories are at their core about us, because they hum along to our lives in a voice so distant yet so familiar that we can't help but stop to listen and, consequently, learn about ourselves and the people around us.

That's what a community is, too: the recognition of a common shared experience, with enough differences to effect and encourage learning and growth. Encountering others' family histories and relationships, the universal yet unique tragedies and triumphs that befall or bolster us all in such distinct, such similar ways, and our individual and collective tastes and values shape us personally and as a whole as we connect, disagree, and collaborate with one another. And what better to facilitate that interaction than a really good book?

And, of course, on Wednesday we announced the 2014 National Jewish Book Awards Winners and Finalists—congratulations to all the honorees! A number of them have written for the Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople, or interviewed about their NJBA-recognized title in Jewish Book World, the Jewish Book Council’s quarterly magazine. Among them:

Adam D. Mendelsohn (Celebrate 350 Award for American Jewish Studies, The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire) recently blogged about the process of “stumbling” upon interesting leads in research and what accounts for Jewish success in America.

Stuart Rojstaczer (Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction, The Mathematician's Shiva) wrote about speaking to his cat in Yiddish and penned a short play about his mother’s reaction to his (now award-winning) first novel.

Sara Davidson expounded on her conversations and relationship with Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the subject of The December Project: An Extraordinary Rabbi and a Skeptical Seeker Confront Life's Greatest Mystery.

Eve Harris offered a glimpse into the London Haredi school that provided much of the material for The Marrying of Chani Kaufman.

Boris Fishman ruminated on the importance of documenting family history and the space between suffering, victimhood, and evil, and offered a pop-quiz contest about A Replacement Life.

Molly Antopol shared how The Chosen by Chaim Potok influenced her writing and helped her craft The UnAmericans.

Interviews:
David Bezmozgis (J.J. Greenberg Memorial Award for Fiction, The Betrayers)
Rabbi David Wolpe (David: The Divided Heart)
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History)
Stuart Rojstaczer (Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction, The Mathematician's Shiva)
Susan Jane Gilman (The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street)


This week the Jewish Book Council also interviewed last year’s Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year Award winner, Yossi Klein Halevi. Discussing Like Dreamers: The Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, Halevi discussed more broadly the history, current politics, and future of Israel, whither he moved in 1982 at the start of the first Lebanon War:

We’ve paid a price for the utopian delusions of the Jews. But we’ve also been tremendously energized by these utopian movements. This is the first time in the history of the state—the history of Zionism—when there is no utopian avant-garde trying to lead the nation. The result is a growing sense of drift among Israelis.

My sense— maybe it’s only a hope— is that the next great outbreak of utopian energy in Israeli society will be spiritual, not political, and will focus on creating the next phase of Judaism. What kind of Judaism will we live as a sovereign people in its land? So far, we’ve mostly imported forms of Judaism that emerged under conditions of a persecuted, ghettoized minority. We need forms of Judaism that are worthy of the profound transformation in Jewish life we’ve experienced over the last two centuries, and especially since the creation of Israel.

Sarah Wildman also sat down to discuss the research and writing behind Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind with the Jewish Book Council—an excellent follow-up to her “Paperless Love” excerpt series on The ProsenPeople over the fall:

I have often thought that it is a shame that my children will not know the simple joy of, first, receiving a letter in the mail, and then, years later coming across that letter, and remembering who you were then, and who the letter writer was. I am of the generation that had a brief dalliance with paper and pen— when I lived in Jerusalem in college, I regularly exchanged letters with friends, all of which are still in a box in my parents’ home. I have the letters from high school, telling of loves and hates and stories all in a way a bit more conscious than we are now, in a our often disposable email world. So yes, I think we are strangely almost erasing ourselves, even in our crazy over-documented lives.


Lesléa Newman wrote about her own, much more substantial, relationship with the handwritten word—specifically, with her pencil—on The Visiting Scribe series. She was joined by Menachem Rosensaft, editor of God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, who wrote about the unified optimism of the second and third generation after the Shoah, preserving the mystery in Holocaust remembrance, and the harsh realities of life after liberation for survivors of catastrophe:

“For the greater part of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen,” my mother recalled many years later, “there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation. We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug, nobody who was waiting for us, anywhere. We had been liberated from death and from the fear of death, but we were not free from the fear of life.”

New York Times Vows columnist Devan Sipher also considered death, love, and the fear of loss as a guest contributor to the ProsenPeople partnership series with Ask Big Questions:

As Jews, we don’t believe in a hereafter where we have the opportunity to be reunited with loved ones. It would be easier if we did, but “dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return” is not a philosophy that lends itself to romantic notions of an afterlife.

So love, like religion itself, becomes an act of faith.

In book reviews, this week we looked at some of Maira Kalman’s Favorite Things, snuck behind the scenes over Thirteen Days in September at Camp David, and traveled 1940s America with two tenacious, intrepid half-sisters in Amy Bloom’s latest novel, Lucky Us.

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The ProsenPshat: Week of December 8th

Friday, December 12, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

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

Can you believe it’s nearly Hanukkah already? We’re thrilled to feature the writers of Hevria next week for a guest-takeover of The ProsenPeople’s Eight Nights of Stories series—make sure to check our blog as we update with these new posts daily over the holiday!

In the meantime, we know you’re still short a few gifts. Instead of scrambling over the weekend, take our advice and present your loved ones with books. We have 2014 gift guides for adult readers, for children’s & YA books, and in a handy flowchart.

But enough looking ahead: there’s plenty to look back on this week!

In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands Before Israel author Adam Rovner blogged as a Visiting Scribe this week on the numerous factual and fictional alternative plans for a Jewish state before the establishment of Israel.

I often describe my book, In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel, as the biography of an idea: the modern idea that Jews needed a national home somewhere—anywhere—except the biblical land of Israel. This Jewish nationalist ideology was known as territorialism and is nearly forgotten today. But in some eras it was more popular than Zionism.

Deducing which of these proposals would in fact have been the best viable option, Adam shared the locations that did and did not make it into his book:

While conducting archival research, I visited each of the potential territories my work describes: Angola, Kenya, Madagascar, upstate New York, Suriname, and Tasmania. But there were several other plans for Jewish states I didn’t examine—either because they never advanced far enough to be considered serious proposals, or because I didn’t want get myself killed.

Fortunately for us, Adam listed the top five of these unexamined sites, “a list of alternate Zions for that sequel I’ll never write,” on The ProsenPeople.

Matthue Roth also blogged for the Jewish Book Council this week, explaining why authors torture the people they love most and a literary device he learned from stories of the Ba’al Shem Tov:

Writers are sadists. You throw your character—your new creation; the thing you love most in the world—in front of the bus.

When I want to show how much Herbie cares about his friends, I make him isolated and alone. To show his creative spirit and his ingenuity, I put him in a place where there's nothing to do and force him to build his own robots. When I want to show him at his best and most heroic, I try to break him.

Matthue also addressed finding the right balance of Jewishness in children’s story writing: how his rejected submissions to The PJ Library made him feel “like I was back on the Jewish dating scene” and how the best book he’s written yet was unabashedly plagiarized from his own kids.

One day, I'd love to write a story that helps my kids understand the idea of praying, and changing the world that way, and of the gates of heaven being forced open by one person's words. If there's one person (actually, three people) who I trust to get my prayers through the gates of heaven, it's them. They might not be very good at bedtime rituals, but when it comes to believing in things, they could move mountains.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof’s Broadway debut, Eddie Shapiro wrote a feature essay for Jewish Book World on recently published books about the classic American stage and film musical, shared on The ProsenPeople this week.

No one associated with Fiddler anticipated that the show would be a smash, and they would have been happy had it lasted a year. One potential producer turned it down because he believed its appeal would be limited to Hadassah theater parties. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Fiddler was one of the great successes in Broadway history, and its original backers made a fortune. Its eight-year run of 3,242 performances surpassed that of My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and South Pacific, and until Grease came along in 1979 it held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical or non-musical show. There have been five Broadway revivals of the show, and every year at least five hundred productions of Fiddler are staged in the United States.

But did the play’s success come at the cost of its Jewish integrity? Eddie examines the critiques of Fiddler on the Roof alongside its achievements over the past five decades, and compares the script against its provenance: Sholem Aleichem’s eight short stories about Tevye the Dairyman and his daughters.

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The ProsenPshat: Week of November 17th

Friday, November 21, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

We’re catching up from the Jewish holiday blitz just in time for Thanksgiving next week! In case you’ve been as busy as we have, here are some highlights from the past several weeks:

Reading All the Trees of the Forest: Israel’s Woodlands from the Bible to the Forest by leading Israeli environmental activist Alon Tal, Juli Berwald recalled her childhood donations to the Jewish National Fund and questioned whether her dimes, pennies, and nickels “might have helped plant some of those misconceived pine trees” that proved flammable and destabilizing to the native ecosystems of mid-century Israel. All the Trees of the Forest provides more than just an ecological study; Tal tells the entirety of the region’s history through its forestation, razes, and agriculture.

In many ways, Tal explains, forests tell the story of human civilization. In Biblical times, deforestation was used as a military tactic, a process exacerbated by the grazing animals of the nomadic tribes that wandered the land between battles. Razing trees continued on and off through the Ottoman rule so that the land was fairly decimated by the 1920s when a massive tree planting effort began with the British takeover... “The forests of Israel constitute a grand experiment.” Tal explains. And lucky for us, the experiment continues.

Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman led an incredible discussion for Jewish twenty-somethings in New York’s Upper West Side just before kicking off her Jewish Book Month tour, addressing Israel’s gender politics and feminist activism over the past several years.

Israel has seen some progress: segregated buses are down to a third of where they were three years ago, and after a driver was heavily fined by the government for the assault of a female passenger on his bus Eged employees have made a better habit of intervening when a passenger is harassed or threatened. There have been other victories for women’s civil rights in Israel over the past couple years: grassroots campaigns and initiatives have gained firm footing in Israeli society, enabling partnerships across denominational lines and placing much-needed accountability on the government and political leaders—not just the religious ones. “The story here is about the secular government, the state apparatus, supporting religious extremism. The story is not about religious extremists, but how the secular world enables them.”


There’s also some great fiction out of Israel recently: Assaf Gavron’s newest novel The Hilltop gets inside the mind of an Israel settler, and his contemporary short story anthology co-edited with Etgar Keret , Tel Aviv Noir, features current Israeli writers whose works Gavron and Keret feel should be receiving international attention.

Can’t get enough crime writing? David Liss’s The Day of Atonement is a historical novel of an avenger exacting retribution for his parents’ execution at the hands of the Portuguese Inquisition. Converting back to his family’s long-lost religion out of spite, Sebastião Raposa’s developing Jewish faith forces him to question the morality of his vigilante mission.

Daniel Silva’s latest novel also twists through history with the mystery of a stolen Caravaggio painting. Returning art restorer and crime solver Gabriel Allon once again fights his inner demons and tears after his objective, hunting down the assets of a powerful Middle Eastern ruler in The Heist.

For a non-fiction chase through history, be sure not to miss Sarah Wildman’s outtakes from Paper Love, published in a four-part installment on The ProsenPeople. The epistolary love story between her grandfather and the woman he had to leave behind in the Second World War impelled Wildman to search for strangers and examine her own family’s survival out of Austria.

It was hard for me to leave out any of the words written by Valerie Scheftel, the woman my grandfather left behind. But there were a few that didn’t fit. And Valy’s letters—as devastating as they are—sometimes, too, ranged to the mundane, just like all the letter writers of her day included the tiny things that now make up our email feeds. Life, even in deprivation, was not always worth filling up a page about. And yet, even Valy’s shortest notes can wallop me with sadness.

Gathering lost stories from the Holocaust is also at the heart of Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler’s List and the USC Shoah Foundation:

As Testimony pushes further and further into the evolution and technicalities of amass­ing the fifty-two thousand recorded interviews that now comprise the Shoah Project archive, its pages are increasingly interrupted by transcripts of the very testimonies crunched into the numbers and facts the book presents. These excerpts range from anecdotes about life before the war to the unimaginable experiences from within the Holocaust to descriptions of how these survivors have lived since. In this, the book demonstrates its keen balance: neither under-crediting Spielberg— his vision, his savvy, and his influence, (nor allowing his prominence to overshadow the efforts of his team—down to the film extras and phone line volunteers,) Testimony serves testament to the dedication of everyone involved in one of the most monumental archival initiatives of the modern age, from Schindler’s List’s producers to its crew to its cast, from the Shoah Foundation’s visionaries to the volunteer videographers capturing interviews on their personal recording equip­ment, from Steven Spielberg to the aging, determined, brave, and frightened witnesses to the Holocaust who came forward to tell him—and through him, the world—not just what happened to them, but who they are, to the next generation inheriting these stories through the Shoah Foundation.

And to the next generation inheriting these stories directly from their grandparents? Michel Laub’s outstanding novella Diary of the Fall is “an arresting examination of the father-son relationship contending with a Holocaust legacy, staged within the insularity of Jewish Brazil.” If you haven’t had much exposure to contemporary Brazilian literature, start here.

Would it make any difference if the things I’m describing are still true more than half a century after Auschwitz, when no one can bear to hear about it anymore, when even to me it seems old-fashioned to write about it, or are those things only of importance to me because of the implications they had for the lives around me?


Chances are you’ve had plenty of exposure to the works of William Shakespeare, but you’ve never read them like this: Lois Leveen blogged about her process for writing a Jewish character into William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as this week’s Visiting Scribe on The ProsenPeople. Drawing on her experience of seeing herself in a different time period during the Passover seder and the Talmudic tradition of building a narrative out of unanswered questions, Lois transformed a negligible Shakespeare character into the Jewish protagonist of Juliet’s Nurse.

The part of me that earned a Ph.D. in literary studies might argue that the question of identity is already at the heart of Romeo and Juliet. In the most famous scene, when Juliet wonders, "wherefore art thou Romeo?" and then insists "a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet," she's plumbing how much of who Romeo is depends on who his people are – in his case, the Montagues, or as we might say, the whole mishpucha. I could draw some analogy from the question of family identity to the question of Jewish identity, particularly the dynamic combination of culture and ritual that defines what it means to be a Jew in contemporary America.

After completing the novel, Lois found herself confronting Shakespeare’s engagement with ideas of Jewishness, beyond Shylock of The Merchant of Venice. Examining passages from Two Gentleman of Verona, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, and Henry IV, Lois mapped the experience of Jews in England during Elizabeth’s reign—and the identities of their gentile neighbors who projected the image of the Jew as expressed by the Bard.

Unlike groups defined by nationality, Jews might shift their geographic presence; but "Jewishness" also implied a different kind of potential instability. In countries under the Inquisition, suspicions persisted regarding whether conversos, Jews forced to convert, were secretly maintaining their Jewish identity and practices. In England, there was a strangely inverse fear that Catholics might be infiltrating the country by disguising themselves as Jews. And throughout Europe, as part of the immense rift begun by the Protestant Reformation, some Catholics accused Protestants of being too like Jews in their practices and beliefs—and some Protestants alleged the same about Catholics.

Four centuries later, Deborah Levy struggled with the perception of Jews during her childhood in South Africa, detailed among the essays of Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing. Facing discrimination during grade school pushed her to rebel through writing, as she has continued to do ever since.


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The ProsenPshat: Week of September 8th

Saturday, September 13, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

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

      

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

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

Stuart: And what is it?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

JMH: That’s not a question.

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

JMH: I love you, Dad.


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

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


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

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


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

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

The ProsenPshat: Week of September 1st

Saturday, September 06, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

It may have been a short work week, but there was plenty to read on the Jewish Book Council website!

Over the holiday weekend half the Jewish Book Council staff reread The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. after pressing it into the hands of a lovelorn friend—and discovered the book cover for the UK edition!

It was a great excuse to revisit the longest interview ever: a conversation with Adelle Waldman that was too good to cut down, so we published the whole thing in three installments.

Interviews with novelists are endlessly fascinating, and this week the Jewish Book Council featured several interviews with some major writers! Tova Mirvis filled our readers in on her ten-year hiatus between The Ladies Auxilary and her current novel, Visible City, in conversation with fellow JBC Network author Adam Rovner. Together they discussed discovering the human capacity for change how stained glass windows reflect the writer’s task in authoring a novel:


You can look at those win­dows as a whole, but you can also look at each individual piece of glass and get a sense of how they were constructed to be a part of this mas­sive work. It made me think about novel writing and I said: “That’s what I’m trying to do, to put all my little pieces together.” And so I developed this love for stained glass.

Wondering what’s next for Tova? Read the interview.


You might notice a fair amount of focus on JBC Network authors this week. This is because the roster of 2014-2015 JBC Network authors and their titles went public September 1st! Browse the online lists to see who is touring North America through the Jewish Book Council this year; if you’re inspired to learn more about the program, please visit our resource pages for publicists and authors or book program coordinators.

In addition to the interviews, this week we published reviews of several JBC Network books: How Could This Happen? Explaining the Holocaust by Dan McMillan; I Pity the Poor Immigrant, a novel by Zachary Lazar; and Pepper, Silk & Ivory: Amazing Stories About Jews and the Far East by Marvin Tokayer and Ellen Rodman. We also salivated over that icon of Jewish cuisine, the knish, in Laura Silver’s journey In Search of the Jewish Soul Food through Brooklyn, New Jersey, and across the world.

Another feast for the eyes: the paintings of Theresa Bernstein, brought to light in a new biography of the twentieth century American artist and her work, A Century in Art. We further indulged in the Arts this week with Eruv, Eryn Green’s prize for winning the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and a gift to the rest of us. And you can’t review a new David Grossman novel and not mention it:

A rumination on the porosity of the barrier between life and death, and above all an elegy to his son Uri, killed in Lebanon in 2006, distinguished Israeli author David Grossman has poured into this book all the literary forms this brilliantly imaginative writer has at hand—prose, poetry, allusion, fable, theater, narration.

It was certainly a busy week of Jewish Book Council online content, but be sure not to miss Bel Kaufman’s reminiscences about her grandfather, Sholem Aleichem, recorded by Tradition! author Barbara Isenberg shortly after Kaufman’s 100th birthday. Kaufman became a distinguished author herself as an adult, but her memories of her grandfather are quite simply darling:

I remember the sound of his laughter, and I have two or three visceral memories. I remember the feeling of his hand. He used to tell me that the harder I held his hand, the better he wrote. So I take all credit, for I held on very tight.

The ProsenPshat: Week of August 25

Saturday, August 30, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The Jewish Book Council webteam is launching a weekly recap of highlights from each week’s online content on www.jewishbookcouncil.org. Worried you might have missed something this week? Be sure to check our featured reviews page and scroll through The ProsenPeople blog!

Following up last week’s review of Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History, this week we published the Jewish Book Council’s interview with Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s newest biographer:

The Rebbe might well be the most well-known rabbi since Maimonides. I can think of no other rabbi who is as familiar to Jews in Israel, the U.S., the former Soviet Union, and France, the four most populous Jewish communities in the world today. So it certainly seemed that that this was a man whose life deserved to be studied in depth.

If you’d like to read about more seminal Jewish leaders, check out The Founding Fathers of Zionism, five essays by historian Benzion Netanyahu on Pinsker, Herzl, Nordau, Zangwill, and Jabotinsky—the great modern Jewish thinkers of their time.

Benzion Netanyahu’s historical examination of the original Zionists is replete with stories that detail the proverbial forks in the road when his subjects were faced with decisions that not only shaped their lives but dictated the future of the Jewish state and influences our future as Jews.

Netanyahu is a historian and his writing takes an academic approach, but what about when history and fiction meet? Pam Jenoff guest blogged as a Visiting Scribe on The ProsenPeople about how her career as a novelist began out of her experience working as a Foreign Service Officer at the United States Consulate in Krakow Poland—just after the Iron Curtain fell. She addresses the larger issues facing Holocaust fiction writers, questioning whether we should be writing stories set during the Holocaust at all.

I’ve written several novels set during the war now and it doesn’t get any easier. But I try to approach all of it with respect and dignity and I think readers respond to that. To me, each book is a love song to Jewish Poland, and the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe.

Writing about a particular moment in history is never easy. In the past week, we’ve been through our own moment of inexpressible horror and tragedy, for which we continue to struggle to find words. Joshua Fattal’s essay on Remembering Hebrew School in Iranian Prison out of The ProsenPeople archives was an uplifting read in the midst of the anxiety and anguish for the safety of American and international journalists, volunteers, and peacekeepers in the Middle East over the past handful of days alone.

In cell fifty-four in Evin Prison, Tehran, I saw a sliver of the sky through the glass window and the two sets of metal bars. From its position and size, I deduced that it was waning and that it’d be a new moon in a few days. It was September and I believed that the coming new moon signified Rosh Hashanah.

Our hearts weigh heavy from events at home this week, as well. As Thursday marked the anniversary of both the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the heinous torture and murder of Emmett Till, the Jewish Book Council reissued its reading list on Justice, Civil Rights, and Race Relations as tensions and violence continue in Ferguson, MO and throughout the country.

The ProsenPshat: Week of August 18th

Saturday, August 23, 2014 | Permalink

Posted by Nat Bernstein

The Jewish Book Council webteam is launching a weekly recap of highlights from each week’s online content on www.jewishbookcouncil.org. Worried you might have missed something this week? Be sure to check our featured reviews page and scroll through The ProsenPeople blog!

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is Susan Jane Gilman’s new work of fiction about an injured Jewish-Russian immigrant who transforms herself into a tasty treat tycoon. Set in the early-through-late twentieth century, the novel incorporates events and issues of the time: immigration, Jewish assimilation, women’s rights, poverty, the World Wars, McCarthyism, youth movements, the Reagan administration…


Want more insight on the book? Read the Jewish Book Council’s interview with Susan Jane Gilman (ahead of its printed publication in Jewish Book World!) on The ProsenPeople. The author shares her inspiration for the novel, how and why she built its heroine, and her delicious research into the history and production of ice cream in the United States!


Another fascinating insight into an author’s research comes from Jessica Lamb-Shapiro on the Visiting Scribe series this week. In her posts detailing the creation of Promise Land, her study of America’s self-help culture and industry, Jessica recounts her revelatory experience regressively confronting her mother’s untimely death as she muddled through the initially impersonal research. Be sure to check out her book: it’s remarkably witty, informative, and deeply touching. And how can you resist that kitten hanging on the front cover?


Another book not to be missed: Ayelet Waldman’s newest historical fiction, Love & Treasure. The mystery and love story surrounding a peculiar locket transcends time, hurtling across moments in history.


This week’s nonfiction highlight? Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s new biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History. Drawn from the Rebbe’s private correspondence, Telushkin’s newest work is a rich and illuminating portrait of this remarkable man who was a devoted spiritual leader and tireless counselor, controversial advocate for women’s rights and community openness, and an accomplished scholar.


If Rebbe has whetted your biography appetite, read up on theater and film legend Stella Adler in Stella! The Mother of Modern Acting by Sheana Ochoa, with a forward by Mark Ruffalo. This incredible woman not only mentored and coached the likes of Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro, Shelley Winters, and Peter Bogdanovitch, she served as a gunrunner for the Irgun!


The past couple weeks in the United States have spurred discussion about American Jews' role and responsibility in justice and civil rights causes. Watching events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, we have updated our reading list of adult and children's books on Justice, Civil Rights, and Race Relations.