The Arty Semite

Author Blog: The Golden Child

By Lauren Grodstein

Lauren Grodstein’s books include the novels “The Explanation for Everything,” “A Friend of the Family,” and “Reproduction is the Flaw of Love” and the story collection “The Best of Animals.” Lauren teaches creative writing at Rutgers-Camden, where she helps administer the college’s MFA program. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Recently, one of my writing students turned in a story featuring an adorable, vulnerable child whose blue eyes were “wide with wisdom” or something similarly icky. Although I otherwise liked the story, I warned my student – my entire class, in fact – against this particular cliché, the urchin who spouts soul-ennobling maxims while either bringing the adults together or putting them in their place. This child is usually between the ages of four and eight, preternaturally mature, humorless, and almost always blond. I call him the Golden Child, and he annoys the crap out of me.

After I finished teaching that day, I met my four-year-old son for lunch in the campus garden. My son is blond. My son is blue-eyed. My son has a good sense of humor, but still: my creative writing students saw us in the garden and said, kindly, that it looked like I had a Golden Child of my own. I smiled through my cringe. They were right: Nathaniel is golden, as all-American as a fourth of July firework. I, on the other hand, look like I was just crowned Miss Shtetl 2013. In other words, my son doesn’t look like me at all, and he doesn’t look particularly “Jewish.”

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Writing the Tradition

By Daniel Torday

Earlier this week, Daniel Torday wrote about Jewish novella-writers and discussed the complicated “Jewish Writer Question.” Daniel’s novella “The Sensualist” won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


After five years as a magazine editor in New York City, I took the leap and the risk to exit the race and take an MFA. I was in my 20s and didn’t know much more than that I loved books and wanted to write one. My first workshop there was taught by an African-American writer whose novels I love, and whose advice — every word of it — has stuck with me every day since.

In one of my first days there, I turned in a short story about a Jewish kid who goes to visit his grandparents in Montreal, and after a long night of drinking ends up skinny-dipping in a hot tub only to see, dramatically and in great detail, that his grandfather isn’t circumcised.

This fact came under appropriate scrutiny by my fellow workshop members. Maybe the writing wasn’t so hot (it wasn’t). Maybe no one wants to read a long description of an octogenarian’s foreskin (they sure don’t!). So I demurred. The story’s been in a drawer since.

But in private conference after workshop, the novelist sat me down. He could see how dejected I was.

“Look look look — so maybe you didn’t pull of that scene,” he said. “But you’ve got material here.”

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Complication of the Jewish Writer Question

By Daniel Torday

Earlier, Daniel Torday wrote about Jewish novella-writers. Daniel’s novella “The Sensualist” won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


About three days after my second daughter, Delia, was born, I got a call from the editor of a novella I’d published the previous year. She said, “Congratulations!” I thought she was talking about the new baby. After three long minutes of my bumbling about diapers and sleeplessness she said, “You don’t know, do you? You won the National Jewish Book Award!”

My first response was: Holy Oh My God! My second was: I mean, G-d! And my third was: Wait, so, does this make me a Jewish Writer? Because some part of me doesn’t know what that means, and what that means for me.

So here are some facts:

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Jews and the Novella

By Daniel Torday

Daniel Torday’s novella “The Sensualist” won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in Outstanding Debut Fiction. His debut novel, “The Last Flight of Poxl West,” will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2015. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I’m biased, having recently published a novella with strong Jewish themes. And this is deeply unscientific and probably not defensible. But I’ll just say it unequivocally and then back off if need be: the most timeless, lasting novellas of the second half of the 20th century were written by Jewish novella writers. With apologies to Jim Harrison and Denis Johnson, whose novellas I love and teach, it seems to me that Philip Roth and Saul Bellow are the two major novellists (the proper epithet for the novella writer) of the past 60 years. You’d be hard-pressed to put Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus” and Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day” up against virtually any other novella of their epoch and find them wanting. Those novellas have grown to be foundational texts of their times, cornerstones of those two major Jewish American writers’ oeuvres.

But more than that, what distinguishes Roth and Bellow as novellists is the sheer quantity and quality of novellas each published — frequently. A quick perusal of the table of contents of Bellow’s “Collected Stories” turns up nearly as many novellas as “stories” — “The Bellarosa Connection,” which was published stand-alone; “A Theft,” one of the Nobel-winner’s finest; “What Kind of Day Did You Have?” clocking in at 70-plus small-print pages. And after the small masterpieces of his mid-career gave us the 86 pages of “The Prague Orgy,” 96 pages of “The Breast,” and the speedy “The Ghost Writer,” the back half of Roth’s celebrated late-career output finds the hopefully-future-Nobelist (a fan can dream, can’t he?) alternating big novels with quick strike novellas published as “novels”: “The Dying Animal” and “Everyman.”

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Editing the Smallest College Daily in America

By Ron Rubin

An anthology of 50-plus years of Ron Rubin’s published commentary on topics of import to world Jewry, “A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry” (Syracuse University Press), is now available. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Despite the contributions of the Internet, turning out a college daily newspaper today still requires human ingenuity and dedication, as it did more than a half century ago. Computers left to themselves don’t write editorials, accounts of student council intrigue, reviews of drama society productions, or play-by-play accounts of intercollegiate sports events, and they don’t know how to meet a deadline!

In my senior year at NYU’s Bronx (“uptown”) campus — way back in 1960-1961 — I wrote a lot about the facets of collegiate culture mentioned above. I was editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Heights Daily News (HDN). Since the newspaper covered a campus of only 2,000 students enrolled in NYU’s two uptown colleges — liberal arts and engineering — the publication held the distinction of being “the smallest college daily in America.” (By contrast, the Columbia Daily Spectator, which covered the comings and goings of tens of thousands of students and faculty at Columbia University’s campus in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights section a dozen miles to the south, had many richer and more provocative sources to draw from to produce its daily miracle.)

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Author Blog: Becoming an Anthologist

By Peri Devaney

Earlier this week, Ron Rubin wrote about visiting the Soviet Union and Peri Devaney wrote about working on the postscript for her anthology, “A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry: Fifty-Plus Years of Published Commentary by Ron Rubin” (Syracuse University Press). Today, Peri discusses organizing the material for the anthology. Their blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Thank G-d for Excel!

Having worked with Ron Rubin in an editing capacity since 2003, I thought I was well aware of how prolific a writer he was when he asked me if I would put together an anthology of his works. And then came the boxes of newspapers, magazines, journals and other various and sundry periodicals.

And then came the emails with e-versions of his more current articles, and an occasional new article showing up even after I started working with the material.

As I said in my earlier blog post, political science and history are just not my bailiwick. So how was I to get through, select, and organize as much of this material as possible into an interesting anthology focusing on topics related to Judaism and Israel?

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Author Blog: Visiting the Soviet Union

By Ron Rubin

Yesterday, Peri Devaney wrote about working on the postscript for her anthology, “A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry: Fifty-Plus Years of Published Commentary by Ron Rubin” (Syracuse University Press). Today we hear from Ron Rubin, the prolific professor she anthologized. Their blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I’ve had four opportunities to visit the Soviet Union/Former Soviet Union over the years, the fourth being the trip I’m preparing for as I write this blog that will be posted while I’m physically there.

Each trip had a different setting, successively bringing me closer to my Jewish brethren. In looking back I realize how fortunate it was that along the way I was never thrown out!

My first trip, as a 26-year-old single in 1968, was mainly exploratory. I wanted to check out the terrible press reports, leave behind some Jewish books, and instill some hope. In this pre détente era when tourism between the USA and the Soviet Union was virtually unknown, I signed up with the Dutch Student Travel Organization, NBBS, for a two week all-expenses-covered trip costing $250. I was the only Jew and the only American among the 30 travelers. The railroad that left Amsterdam took two days and nights to reach our first stop, Minsk. At the intersection between the two Germanys, bloodhounds came on board to search. Crossing Poland, I recognized the names of towns like Bialystok, well known in Jewish history. Were these the same tracks used a quarter century earlier to bring Jews to the concentration camps, I wondered?

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Author Blog: Putting Myself on the Line

By Peri Devaney

Peri Devaney’s new book, “A Jewish Professor’s Political Punditry: Fifty-Plus Years of Published Commentary by Ron Rubin” (Syracuse University Press), is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


As a book editor, my work had always been behind the scenes. When Ron Rubin (an author I had previously edited for “behind the scenes”) asked me to come out from behind and have my name appear on the cover of an anthology of his works, I never considered the possibility I might wind up putting myself on the line.

As I understood it, my role as anthologist would be to cull through the anthologized’s published materials, decide which pieces fit the anthology’s theme, create “abridged” versions for some of the tangential works, organize the material in a sensible pattern, and write a preface and filler blurbs to provide a biographical background and help the reader move through the book.

All went as expected, the manuscript was submitted, and then…

Surprise!

A reviewer for the publisher’s acquisitions department gave the book a “thumbs up” but suggested adding a bridge between the last of Rubin’s published commentaries and the book’s production. Syracuse University Press’s editorial committee agreed, I discussed the idea of a “Postscript” with Dr. Rubin, and he informed me he would gladly help me write it.

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Yiddish Theater and Birth Control

By Melissa R. Klapper

Earlier this week, Melissa R. Klapper wrote about abortion and the complexity of halacha and five American Jewish women you’ve (probably) never heard of. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


At Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ, where I teach, all would-be history majors and minors are required to take (and pass–we’re sticklers that way) a course called Historical Methods. This class is a huge challenge for both students and teachers, as it is writing intensive and the students rarely come to it with much of an interest in historiography, theory, or best practices in terms of scholarship. To humanize the issues, I tell tales of historians behaving badly — those who have plagiarized, forged sources, cheated — who paid the price for their professional malfeasance. But as I learned while working on my most recent book, a history of American Jewish women in the suffrage, birth control and peace movements during the early 20th century, there are other kinds of cautionary tales that should also be part of my repertoire.

Before I even began this book, I was already aware of at least two 1916 Yiddish plays about birth control, both of which are housed at the Library of Congress. I knew about them because the images of their front pages have often been reproduced in accounts of American Jewry and because they have regularly been referred to by scholars in the context of general Jewish communal support for the birth control movement. As I dove into the research for my book, I discovered that apparently no one had actually ever translated these plays in full. My reading knowledge of Yiddish, though adequate for Yiddish periodicals and the like, could not cope with the hand-written manuscripts of the plays, so with the help of a grant, I commissioned Naomi Shoshana Cohen to do the translations. She and I discussed my overall project, and she set about the time-consuming task.

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From Intermarried Couple to Observant Jewish Family

By Harold Berman

Earlier this week, Gayle Redlingshafer Berman wrote about mourning the loss of a non-Jewish parent. Today we hear from Gayle’s co-author, her husband Harold Berman, the former Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. Gayle and Harold are the co-authors of “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope.” Their blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


When my wife and I speak to groups about our family’s journey to Judaism, inevitably we are asked about our parents. How did Gayle’s parents, devout Christians that they were, feel about Gayle becoming an observant Jew? How did my parents feel about me leaving my Reform upbringing to embrace an Orthodox life?

The questions are hardly academic. We have heard from numerous converts about parents who didn’t understand their decision, who felt betrayed, who now worried for their souls, who sometimes even actively tried to undermine their choices. For Ba’alei Teshuva — those Jews who were not raised observant but became so as adults — the reaction of their Jewish parents often is hardly more positive.

When we are asked about how our parents reacted and if we had any difficulties, we respond honestly that we are blessed. Gayle wrote in the previous blog post about her father. His support of Israel was rock solid. He was a true Christian Zionist and “got it” far more than many Jews I know. He was not only supportive of our move to Israel, but proudly wore his Israel Defense Forces cap in the midst of the cornfields of Farmington, Illinois.

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Abortion, Birth Control, and Halacha

By Melissa R. Klapper

Earlier this week, Melissa R. Klapper wrote about five American Jewish women you’ve (probably) never heard of. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I recently came across a copy of the June 28 issue of The Jewish Press. The Jewish Press is an Orthodox Jewish weekly periodical out of Brooklyn that has a political agenda with which I could not disagree more. When I saw the headline “Time for the Halachic View on Abortion to Be Heard,” I groaned inwardly and prepared to be outraged.

Imagine my surprise when the article, by Yori Yanover, the senior Internet editor of the publication, turned out to be a call to traditional halachic voices to distance themselves from Christian anti-abortion activism and to express more forcefully in the public arena the nuanced rabbinical approach to the difficult topic of abortion. While I do not at all appreciate Yanover’s description of both liberal Jewish groups and evangelical Christians as “the crazies,” I think it is extremely important that a publication like The Jewish Press is reminding its audience that even the strictest interpreters of Jewish law consistently approached abortion from the perspective of protecting the viable life of the mother over the potential life of the fetus. The rabbis, Yanover points out, historically did not consider abortion to be murder.

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Mourning the Loss of a Non-Jewish Parent

By Gayle Redlingshafer Berman

Gayle Redlingshafer Berman is co-author, with her husband, Harold, of “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope,” the first true-life account of “an intermarriage gone Jewish.” She is also an internationally acclaimed singer, and has performed and conducted throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


“Ima, Aunt Angela is trying to reach you. I know it’s grandma! I want to go to her funeral!” My 13-year-old son was home manning the phone in Efrat while I was busy teaching piano to American girls at a school in Jerusalem. My mother had been ill for many years with dementia, that terrifying disease that steals the memory and dignity of its victims. Long before we had made Israel our home three and half years earlier, each day we had expected the call from Illinois telling us that her body had given up the fight. That moment had apparently arrived. Not having my sister’s U.S. number in my Israeli cell phone, I simply continued teaching my piano student.

Soon my cell phone rang. I was sure my sister was indeed calling to tell me that what my son had suspected was true. I told my student, “I’ll be right back,” knowing I could handle what I had been anticipating for years. “Dad died this morning!” I couldn’t believe my ears! No, she meant “Mom,” my head screamed! “Dad?” I yelled! “Yes, Dad.”

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Five Jewish Women People Have Never Heard Of

By Melissa R. Klapper

Melissa R. Klapper is a professor of history at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. Her newest book, “Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940” (NYU Press), is now available. Her blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


One of the biggest pleasures in writing American Jewish women’s history is discovering the immensely talented, hardworking, committed women whose activities and beliefs and organizations shaped not only the American Jewish past but the whole social, cultural, political, and religious world we live in today. I decided to begin each of the five chapters of my new book, “Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940” (NYU Press, 2013) with a biographical sketch of one of these women. All of them were renowned during their own lifetime for their significant contributions to social and political movements; alas, few are known today. For each chapter I had literally dozens of fascinating women upon whom I could have focused. Here are those I ultimately chose to profile.

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Dreaming at the Movies

By Ilan Mochari

Earlier this week, Ilan Mochari wrote about The Who and Jewish summer camp and the autobiographical elements in his novel, “Zinsky the Obscure” (Fomite Press). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


When it comes to 20th-century Jewish authors, it’s Bellow, Roth, and Salinger who generally grab headlines. But their immediate predecessors — Delmore Schwartz and Nathanael West — worked in an era that will always captivate me. The term “bygone time” gets tossed around a lot, but to read Schwartz and West is to truly step into a different America — the America of the 1930s — than the one that Bellow, Roth, and Salinger chronicled.

For one thing, World War II had not happened. For another, the television had not yet taken over as a standard domestic appliance. But the movies and radio were in full swing, forever altering the way we consume words, images, advertisements, and stories. Schwartz and West had to compete with these newfangled media. In one of my favorite passages from “Miss Lonelyhearts,” West, through the prism of that novel’s narrator, laments how the noun dreams has lost its aura in this new era:

“Although dreams were once powerful, they have been made puerile by the movies, radio and newspapers. Among many betrayals, this one is the worst” (39).

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Author Blog: A Word on Who I Am

By Ilan Mochari

Earlier this week, Ilan Mochari wrote about the autobiographical elements in his novel, “Zinsky the Obscure” (Fomite Press). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Kelly McDonald

A few months ago I finished Pete Townshend’s autobiography, “Who I Am.” I can’t say I was surprised to read the following:

We shared our house with the Cass family, who lived upstairs and, like many of my parents’ closest friends, were Jewish. I remember noisy, joyous Passovers with a lot of Gefilte fish, chopped liver and the aroma of slow-roasting brisket (11).

Why was I not surprised? As a lifelong fan of The Who, I’ve often felt there was something ineffably Jewish in their themes and melodies. I’m thinking in particular of the devotional litany from “Tommy”:

Listening to you, I get the music / Gazing at you, I get the heat / Following you, I climb the mountain / I get excitement at your feet / Right behind you, I see the millions / On you, I see the glory / From you, I get opinions / From you, I get the story.

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Not All Autobiographical Elements Are Equal

By Ilan Mochari

Ilan Mochari’s novel, “Zinsky the Obscure” (Fomite Press), is now available. He is Chief Writer for The Build Network and a contributor to Cognoscenti, the online magazine for Boston’s NPR News Station. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I get this question all the time: How autobiographical is your novel?

The book’s style, setting, and protagonist invite the question: It’s a first-person coming-of-age debut. It takes place largely in New York and Boston, where I’ve spent most of my life. And the main character — the Zinsky of the title — is my age.

But my honest answer is this: “The life I’ve lived is different from the tale I spin about a fictional character named Zinsky. But I’ve used plenty of ammunition from my life to create Zinsky and his story.”

The thing is — there’s heavy ammunition, and there’s light ammunition.

In the category of heavy ammo, I’d list the following:

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Author Blog: My Biggest Love

By David Ehrlich

Earlier, David Ehrlich wrote about the shared culture, language, and fate of Israelis. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


My third book was published this week. Needless to say, I’m somewhere between panic and excitement. It’s the first one in English after my two books in Hebrew. When I come up with a new book I’m preoccupied with all kinds of questions, such as:

  • Will people buy it?
  • Will they like it?
  • Will the reviewers like it?

With my new book published in the U.S., I also have worries as an Israeli author, such as:

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Author Blog: Only in Israel

By David Ehrlich

David Ehrlich has published two books of short stories in Hebrew, “18 Blue” and “Tuesday and Thursday Mornings.” His newest book, “Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel,” is now available. His bookstore-cafe in Jerusalem, Tmol-Shilshom, is a haven for avant garde artists and writers, hosting readings by authors such as David Grossman, Etgar Keret, and A. B. Yehoshua. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Here’s something that just happened to me. I was walking with an American friend in the picturesque quarter of Neve-Tsedek in Tel-Aviv, looking for an ice cream place called “Savta” (Grandma). We asked someone where it was and he showed us the way, just two blocks from there. “But you know what,” he confided, “There’s an even better ice cream place in the other direction, also very near.” We still continued to Savta’s, either because of the attractive name or because we saw from a distance the beautiful setting in a shady, flourishing side alley. Ice cream is not only ice cream, it’s also the experience around it, right?

As we took our seats, my American friend said, “I can’t believe it. In the U.S. they’d have told you exactly how to get there and that’s all. Here, they’ll tell you that there’s a better ice cream.”

“Of course,” I said, “and I’m surprised this guy didn’t recommend the flavors.”

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The Kosher Ice Cream Caper

By Timothy D. Lytton

Earlier this week Timothy D. Lytton wrote about a recent scandal at a kosher meat market in L.A. and organized crime and kosher food certification. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Kosher food certification has come a long way in the past 100 years (see my earlier posts on the Baff Murder and the L.A. kosher meat scandal). Consumer vigilance has been a key factor in improving the reliability of kosher certification. Of the estimated 12 million American consumers who buy kosher products because they are certified kosher, 8% are religious Jews who eat only kosher food.

This core of religiously observant consumers is highly motivated to monitor the reliability of kosher certification. They call agency hotlines to report improperly labeled products — for example, products with a pareve (indicating the absence of any dairy products) label that nonetheless list dairy ingredients on their packages, packages with agency symbols that appear to be counterfeit, or items that contain ingredients that the consumers suspect are not kosher.

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A Lonely Golem

By Matthue Roth

Earlier this week, Matthue Roth wrote about why kids love scary stories. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:


I was trying to figure out how to get people to buy “My First Kafka” from me directly instead of, say, Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy when anyone buys my book from anywhere, but it’s a nice feeling when you actually sell the copy yourself. (Also, you make slightly more than the 43 cents per copy or whatever that you get from your publisher, but that’s a different story.)

So I wrote this tiny mini-book. It’s a short story, and it’s called “The Last Golem in Prague.” It was an 11th-hour creation in every sense. The books had just arrived in the mail, people were actually buying them, which I couldn’t (and still mostly can’t) believe, and I had to send out something. For months I’d sat in front of my notebook, page blank, wondering what sort of story I should write for whatever people might buy my weird children’s book.

And then, at 11:59 or so, everything clicked together.

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  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • from-cache

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