The Arty Semite

Author Blog: The Investigation Begins

By D. A. Mishani

Yesterday, D. A. Mishani wondered why it’s so difficult to write a detective in Hebrew. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published by Harper. 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:


So why is it so difficult to write a detective novel in Israel? Aren’t we supposed to be a literary culture that appreciates a sharp character who knows how to solve a riddle? And didn’t we produce one of the first recorded murder cases (that of Cain and Abel) and one of the first thrillers about an attempted murder prevented at the last moment (that of the Akeda)? As all detectives do, in order to solve the mystery I had to turn to history for some answers. And, in this case, it was the history of modern Hebrew literature.

I knew that modern Hebrew literature (i.e., literature in the modern and European sense, written not within liturgical or other religious contexts) began in the 18th century, in central and eastern Europe, mainly in what is today Germany, Poland, Ukraine and Russia. During the 19th century many of the newly-born modern European literary forms immigrated into Hebrew literary writing. And, although from its beginnings it understood and described itself as a national literature — like the German or the French — modern Hebrew literature has developed under unique circumstances, unfamiliar to most other national literatures.

Read more


When 50 Happens to Good People

By Annabelle Gurwitch

Actress, author, and activist Annabelle Gurwitch is the author of three books: “Autumn Leaves,” “You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up,” and “Fired!” Her comedic memoir for Blue Rider imprint at Penguin will be published in Spring 2014. 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 turned 50. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I do yoga. I moisturize. I still fit into the same jeans I’ve had for the last 15 years, though they do sit differently, but you can’t escape it, no matter how Vitamin D you’re taking (even though some studies say it doesn’t do anything of significance).

As an actress, I always played roles sometimes even a decade younger than myself. This was before IMDB made it impossible to lie about your age. I’d told so many people so many different ages over the years I’d even convinced myself that my driver’s license might not even be accurate.

There is precedence for this in my family. My father’s mother, Rebecca, shaved a few years off when she arrived in Alabama as a teenager around 1919 from Russia — I can only assume to make her self more attractive marriage material—but then she tried to have it corrected to collect her Social Security earlier many years later. We’re Southern, so a bit of Blanche Dubois tends to seep in from time to time.

Read more


The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective

By D. A. Mishani

D. A. Mishani is an Israeli crime writer, editor, and literary scholar, specializing in the history of detective fiction. His first detective novel, “The Missing File,” was published in by Harper. 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 fascination with detectives started very early on.

I remember that one of my strongest reading experiences as a child — when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old — was discovering with growing terror and amazement The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I was reading at night, in bed, under the blanket, and I knew I was intimidated by this strange character, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, even more than I was by the monstrous giant dog he was chasing.

And there’s another experience I remember very strongly:

I was 11 or 12 years old and I had already finished all the Agatha Christie novels available in the adult section of the municipal library in my home town, Holon, an urban suburb of Tel Aviv. I was standing in front of the library shelves that offered almost no other detective novels and asked myself: And now what? Are there really no other detectives in the world for me to read?

Read more


Assimilation and Romanticizing the Past

By Joanna Hershon

Earlier this week, Joanna Hershon wrote about an insult and a memorial service she attended for a friend’s father. Her new novel, A Dual Inheritance, was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. 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:


My paternal grandparents lived across from a canal in Long Beach on Long Island. We went to their house every weekend and — at least in the confusing palace of memory — I spent much of my childhood sitting on their porch, rocking back and forth on a glider in the shade. I remember my grandmother’s pliant arms, her strong opinions, my grandfather’s worry, his strength, his pale blue eyes. I could have listened to them telling stories for hours, and often did.

Because my grandfather was religious, it’s him that I think of first when I think of being Jewish: his broad back in his gray suit and his quiet sense of bearing the weight of the world. I often think that if he were a foul-tempered man instead of gentle and beloved, I might have had negative associations with Judaism. But my grandfather trudging off to temple is linked for me to how he was a landlord who could never bring himself to collect rent if the tenant’s child played a musical instrument; it’s linked to the poetic stories he told me about how the bluebird became blue. His Jewishness is linked with his goodness, and I see him in every talis, every yarmulke.

Read more


Edouard de Pomiane's 'Recollections and Recipes'

By Rebecca Miller

Last week, Rebecca Miller wrote about Gluckel of Hameln. She has been sharing texts that shed light on the history of Jewish life in France, the setting of her new novel, Jacob’s Folly. 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:


When I was researching my last novel, my friend Michael Rohatyn found a book at the Strand he thought I might like: “The Jews of Poland: Recollections and Recipes,” by Edouard de Pomiane. De Pomiane (1875-1964), a physician, was also one of the most famous chefs and cookery writers of his day. Born Eduard Pozerski, he was born into the Polish aristocracy, brought up poor but refined. Both his parents were Polish patriots who fought against Russian domination of their homeland; his mother fled to France with the young Eduard when his father was deported to Siberia for insurrection against the Russians. Coming of age within the close-knit community of Polish exiles in Paris, he was sympathetic to liberal causes and was a proponent of the Dreyfus cause.

His ethnographic book about Polish Jewish culture and cooking, written in 1928, was originally entitled “Cuisine Juive; Ghetto Modernes” (“Jewish Cooking; Modern Ghettos”). It is, perhaps, the weirdest book I have ever read. A tantalizingly vague recipe for Carpe a la Juive (“Take a large, live carp. Kill it…”) follows a horrifying description of a pogrom, relayed to de Pomiane by a museum guide who had survived the massacre by hiding under a heap of hay in which his sister suffocated overnight: “A corpse, belly ripped open, lay with its guts wrapped around its neck…A child wandered aimlessly, haggard, mute, crazed, its body beaten to a pulp.”

Read more


An Insult and a Very Jewish Conversation

By Joanna Hershon

Earlier this week, Joanna Hershon wrote about a memorial service she attended for a friend’s father. Her new novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. 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:


When I was 20, I met a charming elderly man on a train in Greece who told me I looked like an angel. He insisted on escorting me to my destination. At some point during our time together, during the man’s patient explanation of Greek history, he explained to me that the Jews were evil.

I looked him in the eyes and said: But I’m Jewish.

No, he said, no, no. As if I was merely confused.

Yes, I assured him. I’m a Jew. This was 100% true and my family (as far as we know) is 100% Jewish. There was nothing complicated about that fact.

And I was raised by my parents to marry someone Jewish. There was no ambivalence there, no liberal-minded wiggle room.

When I met my husband in my mid-20s, he was living in a small town at the bottom of the Baja Peninsula. He is neither Mexican nor is he Jewish. We fell madly in love and that was that. Though he is not a fan of organized religion, he agreed to raise our future children Jewish, but this was going to be my responsibility. How, I wondered, was I going to nurture a religious identity, when my own life didn’t include much in the way of religious ritual?

Read more


Author Blog: The Memorial

By Joanna Hershon

Joanna Hershon’s most recent novel, “A Dual Inheritance,” was published earlier this month by Ballantine Books. 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 attended my friend’s father’s memorial. It was held at the Faculty House of Columbia University in a perfectly lovely nondescript room with a bar. An elegant man with an appealingly mysterious accent led the service. I imagined he’d been a student of my friend’s father, who was a playwright and professor, or perhaps he worked for the University in some capacity. As the memorial unfolded, three things immediately came to mind: the deceased was roughly the age of the two protagonists in my new novel, “A Dual Inheritance” ; like my protagonists, he’d gone to Harvard, and — though I knew my friend’s father was Jewish — there was no reference to it here. It was an entirely secular experience.

I thought of how my mother always says that there’s something cold and empty when an official service has no religious framework, and as so many friends and family paid loving and witty tribute to this obviously talented, stubborn, erudite, caring man, I carried on a mental argument with my mother, whose Judaism is expressed differently — more politically, more conservatively, less fraught — than mine is. I argued in my head for secularism. Here was a great example, I reasoned; here was a deep tribute without being defined by a religion into which my friend’s father happened to be born. He’d been orphaned fairly young, had a massive heart attack as a young man, had never thought he’d live past 40. He’d also been widowed young and had raised a daughter — my friend — who was now happily living in Berlin, raising a German-speaking son with a non-Jewish husband. You see, I told my mother in my silent protest, life can be so much bigger than religion.

Read more


Shame, Truth, and Reconciliation

By Randy Susan Meyers

In her first installments of “Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear,” Randy Susan Meyers wrote about an essay in which the writer met with an elderly former SS officer and the plight of ordinary German citizen during World War II. Her newest novel, “The Comfort of Lies,” 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:


“The schools would fail through their silence, the Church through its forgiveness, and the home through the denial and silence of the parents. The new generation has to hear what the older generation refuses to tell it.” ― Simon Wiesenthal

I worked for many years with batterers — men who were adjudicated into a program for domestic violence prevention, men who had beaten, hit, punched, and sometimes killed their wives. They sat and stared at me, denying with the most innocent of eyes the very crimes I had laid out in photos in front of me.

She ran into my fist.

I grabbed her arm and then she ran in circles around me, and that is how she broke her own arm.

She had a soft head, and that is why she died when her head hit the iron railing.

People ask if the men ever changed and my answer remains the same: only if they are able to face their crimes and cruelty. Denial, and the shame these men felt (whether shame at being caught, shame at hurting people they should have loved, or shame at their hidden crimes being brought into the bright sunlight), blocked their change. How do you change if you can’t admit what happened?

Read more


Ordinary German Citizens During World War II

By Randy Susan Meyers

In her first installment of “Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear,” Randy Susan Meyers wrote about an essay in which the writer met with an elderly former SS officer. Her newest novel, “The Comfort of Lies,” 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:


“It is obvious that the war which Hitler and his accomplices waged was a war not only against Jewish men, women, and children, but also against Jewish religion, Jewish culture, Jewish tradition, therefore Jewish memory.” ― Elie Wiesel, “Night”

Like most Jewish children born in the ’50s, the Holocaust was a constant shadow. If the German generation born after World War II suffered from collective guilt, trying to cast off the shame of their parents and grandparents, or convince themselves or the world of the innocence of their parents and grandparents, the generation of Jewish children born of the same time, suffered from collective fear.

I didn’t grow up in a traditional Jewish family (if such a thing exists) by any stretch of the imagination. The first time I entered a synagogue was for a friend’s Bar Mitzvah. But I read voraciously, and from the time I received my ‘adult’ card at the Brooklyn Public Library, I was reading accounts — fiction and nonfiction — of the Holocaust. The non-fairy tales of my youth were “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “Mila 18,” and “Night” (which then morphed to “Jubilee” and “Roots,” as I conflated the horrors of slavery and concentration camps into one mass of fright).

Read more


Inspired by Gluckel of Hameln

By Rebecca Miller

This week Rebecca Miller will be sharing texts that shed light on Jewish life in 18th-century France, the setting of her new novel, “Jacob’s Folly” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). 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:


Gluckel of Hameln was an intrepid businesswoman, a mother of twelve children, a passionate wife, and a memoirist. She died in 1724, at the age of 78. Her memoirs are a rare window into the life of European Jewish women of the period. What struck me most vividly by her account of her days was her ability to bridge a business career (otherwise known as financial survival) and family concerns, living a unified, if exhausting, life.

“My father had me betrothed when I was a girl of barely twelve, and less than two years later I married.” So ends Gluckel’s childhood. As often happened, Gluckel’s marital deal included her being exported to another town. In this case, she was crammed into a peasant cart along with the rest of the wedding party (her mother was much put out, having expected carriages) and bustled off to the “dull and shabby hole” of Hameln, a small village. “There I was, a carefree child whisked in the flush of youth from my parents, friends, and everyone I knew, from a city like Hamburg into a back-country town where lived only two Jews.”

Read more


Collective Guilt vs. Collective Fear

By Randy Susan Meyers

Randy Susan Meyers’s most recent book, “The Comfort of Lies,” is now available. She is also the author of “The Murderer’s Daughters,” a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. 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:


“Justice is better than chivalry if we cannot have both.” — Alice Stone Blackwell

The Internet is a tricky beast. Sitting alone, cozy in ragged sweatpants, writing while curled on the couch, it’s easy to believe that you’re cloaked in isolation, even as you spill on that most public of forums. Thus, I hesitate before committing words online. After reading a recent well-intentioned post — about an SS officer — a piece written by a friend of a dear friend, an article meant in good will, I wrestled more than usual.

The essay focused on a particular slice of the copious research this first-generation American author did while writing a novel (which I have not read) about Germany before, during, and after WWII, from the point of view of a young German woman who falls in love with a Jewish man.

During her research, the writer (through her family ties in Germany) met with an elderly former SS officer — an officer and doctor — who the writer concludes was stationed on the front lines, not in a camp.

Read more


The Mishpokhe Connection

By Jonathan Kirsch

Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. Earlier this week, he wrote about Jewish resistance, restoring Herschel Grynszpan to the pages of history, Herschel Grynszpan’s scandalous theory of defense and Kristallnacht. 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’ve dictated a sharp article against the Jews,” Joseph Goebbels boasted in a journal entry in 1933. “At its mere announcement, the whole mischpoke [sic] broke down.”

The word used by the notorious propaganda chief of the Nazi party is a mangled version of the Yiddish word for “family” (mishpokhe), and it conveys the cruelty and contempt that the Nazis held for the Jewish people. To hear the mamaloshen fall from the lips of a man who seeks to murder every Jewish man, woman, child and baby within his reach carries a special kind of horror.

I quote the journal entry in my new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright), and I use “mishpokhe” as a kind of leitmotif in the story I tell. At the age of 15, Herschel was sent out of Nazi Germany by his doting mother and father, and the boy was passed along from uncle to uncle until he finally reached Paris, where he was given a place to live by his Uncle Abraham. They were all tragically wrong in assuming that France offered a safe refuge for the Grynszpans, but they acted loyally and courageously in an effort to save the life of the youngest member of the family.

Read more


Kristallnacht and Herschel Grynszpan

By Jonathan Kirsch

Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. Earlier this week, he wrote about Jewish resistance, restoring Herschel Grynszpan to the pages of history and Herschel Grynszpan’s scandalous theory of defense. 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:


Kristallnacht, the first incident of state-sponsored mass violence against the Jews of Nazi Germany, marks a turning point in history. Hitler used the shooting of a minor German diplomat named Ernst vom Rath by a 17-year-old Jewish boy in Paris — the story I tell in my new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright) — as the pretext for the sudden escalation of his war against the Jews on November 10, 1938. One of the overlooked but highly telling facts about Kristallnacht is that the Nazi regime issued a list of approved phrases to be painted on Jewish storefronts during the “spontaneous” demonstration of righteous German anger. Among the sanctioned graffiti was “Revenge for the murder of vom Rath.”

Here is another reason why history has not been kind to Herschel Grynszpan. When he fired a shot in anger at a Nazi diplomat on that day in 1938, much of the Jewish world was still convinced that passivity and patience offered the only strategy for survival in the face of Nazi anti-Semitism. The shot that Herschel fired in Paris was seen by his fellow Jews as nothing less than a catastrophe. So it was that one Jewish newspaper in Paris was moved to publish an open letter of apology to vom Rath’s mother in which the writer “expressed great sorrow on the death of her son” and implored her that “it was unjust to blame all Jews for her son’s death.”

Read more


A Scandalous Theory of Defense

By Jonathan Kirsch

Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. Earlier this week, he wrote about Jewish resistance and restoring Herschel Grynszpan to the pages of history 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:


At the age of 17, as a refugee from Nazi Germany living illegally in Paris, Herschel Grynszpan saw the world in 1938 as a dire and dangerous place, a perception that he shared with all of his fellow Jews. Unlike them, however, he was capable of imagining the atrocities that the Germans would be willing to carry out in the next few years, and he resolved to call attention to the plight of the Jews by assassinating a Nazi diplomat. That’s the story I tell in my new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright).

“I have to protest in a way that the whole world hears my protest,” he wrote to his parents in a confessional postcard that he was unable to mail before his arrest, “and this I intend to do.”

Herschel is not the only young Jew who showed more vision and more courage than his elders in those terrible times. After all, it was the youthful activists of the Bund and the Zionist movement, both left and right, who banded together in the ghetto uprisings in Warsaw and elsewhere while some older and supposedly wiser members of the Judenrat cooperated with the Germans in drafting the deportation lists. (To be sure, young people can be impulsive and even reckless — we have seen yet more evidence of this fact in recent headlines — but we should not deny that sometimes a hotheaded boy can be right.)

Yet it is the young ghetto fighters who are remembered, honored and celebrated, while Herschel Grynszpan is almost wholly ignored.

Read more


Restoring Herschel Grynszpan to History

By Jonathan Kirsch

Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. Earlier this week, he wrote about Jewish resistance and Herschel Grynszpan. 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 new book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris” (Liveright), is the biography of a 17-year-old boy who sought to write himself into history but, ironically, has been almost wholly ignored in the scholarship of World War II and the Holocaust.

Herschel achieved a brief moment of fame in 1938, when he entered the German embassy in Paris and shot a Nazi diplomat. Indeed, his deed was the focus of a media frenzy, and one famous American journalist, columnist and broadcast Dorothy Thompson organized a defense committee that hired a famous French attorney to represent him in the courts. No less a world-historical figure than Leon Trotsky wrote about the case for the newspapers, and English composer Michael Tippett was inspired to write an oratorio about Herschel Grynszpan, “A Child of Our Time.”

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, however, the world press moved on from coverage of the Grynszpan case, and he disappeared into a Gestapo prison cell after the German invasion of France. Significantly, “the Jew Grynszpan,” as the Nazis invariably called him, was well known to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, and Hitler was eager to mount a show trial that would justify the mass murder of the Jews by focusing on the armed resistance of one Jew. For Hitler and other high-ranking Nazis, the Grynszpan case was not less than an obsession.

Read more


How the Macho Male Identifies With Wildlife

By Helène Aylon

Helène Aylon is an activist artist whose work has been shown in MoMA, the Whitney and the Warhol museums. Her memoir, published by the Feminist Press, is called “Whatever Is Contained Must Be Released: My Jewish Orthodox Girlhood, My Life as a Feminist Artist.” 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:


Remember the bedtime story about the sly wolf propped up in Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s bed? Little boys must have cringed in fear then, but for some in adolescent years, the big bad wolf became the persona of the big bad guy who is tickled “pink” scaring females and making them uneasy. In the ’50s, it was a common practice for street guys to give their jocular “wolf calls” at the sight of a pretty girl walking by; the girl would pretend not to hear the obscene “wolf call” hastening away, as the guys chuckled at how they were put at their “dis-ease” — the late Mary Daly’s term for the disease of machismo.

Then there’s the bull, forced to provide the cruelest theater, the bullfight. Picasso’s self-portraits as a bull are lusting — he’s the stud goading the bull to fight; he is half bull charging crazily within the spotlight.

Read more


Jewish Resistance and Herschel Grynszpan

By Jonathan Kirsch

Jonathan Kirsch is book editor of The Jewish Journal. His most recent book, “The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris,” was published under the Liveright imprint of W. W. Norton to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. 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:


Last month, shortly before the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, my wife, Ann, and I took a tour of Terezín, the fortress near Prague where more than 100,000 Jewish men, women and children were briefly held by the Germans and their accomplices in a transit camp before being sent on to the death factories and the killing fields.

Our local guide felt it appropriate to tell us that the Jews in their tens of thousands were guarded only by 22 SS men.

The guide was dead wrong. “[B]y the end of 1941, [Terezín] housed some 7,000 German soldiers and Czech civilians,” writes Saul Friedländer in “The Years of Extermination,” the second volume of his masterwork, “Nazi Germany and the Jews.” But the subtext of the guide’s remark is not different from the question that Israeli prosecutor Gideon Hausner asked the survivors who appeared as witnesses at the Eichmann trial: Why did you not fight back?

Read more


Cutting-Edge Work in the Jewish Community

By Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000. His most recent book, “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights Publishing), 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:


In “Relational Judaism” I report six case studies of organizations and individuals doing cutting-edge work in creating relational communities. Chabad is numero uno. Their first and most important “secret” of success: a warm welcome to everyone they meet and an invitation to share a meal, usually in the rabbi’s home and usually within five minutes of the first personal encounter. They practice what I have called “radical hospitality,” a passionate commitment to learning about each and every person they meet.

Google “Chabad” and inevitably you will see results that include “no membership fees” and “free Hebrew school.” The truth is that Chabad is not “free.” What they have done is to turn the membership model upside down: instead of asking for dues upfront and then serving the members, Chabad offers hospitality and programming first and then aggressively asks for money. The vast majority of their funding comes from those grateful for their relationship with the Chabad rabbi and his family, almost always non-Orthodox Jews. Does it work? Estimates suggest Chabad raises well north of $1 billion annually.

Read more


The Future of Jewish Institutions

By Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and a cofounder of Synagogue 3000. His most recent book, “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” (Jewish Lights Publishing), 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:


As I travel around the country visiting Jewish institutions of all kinds, my “worry” quotient is growing daily. Nearly everywhere I go, I hear stories of declining membership, difficulties in attracting the next generation, peaking enrollments and flat fundraising campaigns. This is unusual for me; I have been an optimistic cheerleader for the Jewish community during my career. Bottom line: I am not worried about the future of the Jewish people; I am very worried about the future of Jewish institutions.

What’s happening? In “Relational Judaism,” (Jewish Lights Publishing) I outline the many challenges facing any Jewish organization seeking to engage people. A “biggy” is the Internet. Once upon a time, rabbis and Jewish educators held exclusive access to the wealth of Jewish practice and tradition. Not today. In the zeitgeist of DIY — “Do It Yourself” — the Internet offers enormous resources for just about anything someone wants to learn or do. Another challenge: why should I pay thousands of dollars in membership fees if I can “rent-a-rabbi” to do a backyard Bar/Bat Mitzvah? In the larger Jewish population centers, there are plenty of rabbis who cannot find work in established congregations hanging a shingle and offering their services as independent contractors. Jewish Community Centers face increasing competition from well-equipped health clubs open 24/7. Day school tuition is so high it is pricing out a large segment of those who would like to send their kids.

Read more


Author Blog: Statues and Golems

By Helene Wecker

Earlier this week, Helene Wecker shared a golem-centric reading list and wrote about writing a novel in two cultures and Dorkdom. Enter to win a copy of her debut novel, “The Golem and the Jinni,” here. 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 was 28 before I first saw the Statue of Liberty in person. I’d been accepted to grad school in New York City, and my husband (then fiancé) and I flew out together to see the school — and, in my case, to see the city for the first time. It was a hasty trip, with a red-eye flight and a hodgepodge itinerary. We had friends of friends in Chelsea, and they graciously allowed us to crash at their place. It turned out they lived on one of the busiest corners in the city, and the incessant cab-honking kept us awake most of the night. It was a very New York welcome.

That first afternoon, still fuzzy with jet lag, we took a walk out to the Hudson Park greenway. At Chelsea Piers we stopped to watch the trapeze students swinging through the air above us, looking nervous in their leotards and safety harnesses. We walked out to the end of one of the piers, and that’s where I caught my first real-life glimpse of her.

Wow, I thought. Here I am. There she is.

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.