Ellen Frankel at the 72nd Nation­al Jew­ish Book Awards Celebration

Pho­to­graph by Leor Michan

On March 1, 2023, we had the hon­or of cel­e­brat­ing the 72nd Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award win­ners at Bohemi­an Nation­al Hall. Over the next few weeks, we will be pub­lish­ing the remarks of the win­ners who spoke at this cel­e­bra­to­ry din­ner. Ellen Frankel is the win­ner of the Men­tor­ship Award in Hon­or of Car­olyn Star­man Hessel.

Men­tor­ing is a rec­i­p­ro­cal process, as much about receiv­ing as giv­ing. The Tal­mud teach­es:Har­bay lama­di­ti me’rabotai u‑m’haverai yotair m’rabotai, u‑m’talmidai yotair mekulam. ​“I have learned much from my teach­ers, more from my study com­pan­ions, and from my stu­dents, most of all.”

In my eigh­teen years at the helm of The Jew­ish Pub­li­ca­tion Soci­ety, I had the priv­i­lege and joy of men­tor­ing hun­dreds of writ­ers, many of them first-time authors like Avi­vah Zorn­berg; dozens of staff, board trustees, JPS interns like Miri Pomer­antz Dauber and Nao­mi Fire­­s­tone-Teeter, pro­fes­sion­al col­leagues, and schol­ar­ly advi­sors. And I learned from them all. Tonight I’d like to sin­gle out four of my own mentors.

Dr. Chaim Potok, z”l, occu­pied my chair as edi­­tor-in-chief twen­­ty-five years before me. He taught me the rig­ors of respon­si­ble cura­tion and the bold­ness of respon­si­ble risk-tak­ing. Banker Bet­sy Cohen, board Trustee, extra­or­di­nary donor, and finan­cial genius, taught me how to have a hard head, a soft voice, a strate­gic eye, and dar­ing ambi­tion in fundrais­ing. Rab­bi Gene Borowitz, z”l, taught me how to com­bine a gen­eros­i­ty of spir­it with uncom­pro­mis­ing integri­ty, and also how to make space for younger schol­ars and authors. And Jane Isay, who is here with me tonight, a bril­liant trade edi­tor and pub­lish­er, and a wise friend, taught me the busi­ness. She also pro­vid­ed unstint­ing moral sup­port when the going got tough.

When I start­ed my job, I com­mis­sion a cal­ligraphed piece of art from an artist friend. It’s a quo­ta­tion from Pirke Avot: Eizeh hu m’hubad? Ha‑m’habaid et ha-bri’ot. ​“Who is wor­thy of hon­or? The one who hon­ors oth­ers.” I tried to prac­tice this teach­ing with every­one I met. And lest I for­get, the dour por­trait of Hen­ri­et­ta Szold, JPS’s first edi­tor, hung across from me on the wall, star­ing with rab­binic gravitas.

I want to thank the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil for this spe­cial hon­or, named after one of the great men­tors in our field, Car­olyn Star­man Hes­sel. I am grate­ful that I’ve had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to men­tor so many oth­ers in my pub­lish­ing career. But to para­phrase the Rab­bis: u‑m’talmidai yotair meku­lam. From those I have men­tored, I have learned most of all.

Thank you.

Ellen Frankel served for 18 years as Edi­tor in Chief of JPS. She received a Ph.D. in Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture from Prince­ton She has pub­lished eleven books, most notably The Five Books of Miri­am. She has also writ­ten libret­tos for cham­ber pieces and two operas. She has trav­eled wide­ly as a Jew­ish sto­ry­teller. The Dead­ly Scrolls is her first mystery.