The Arty Semite

An Arrogant Revolution

By Lucette Lagnado

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, “The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn,” is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.” Her posts are being featured this week 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 couldn’t seem to escape Egypt this year — though I never set foot outside New York.

For months, I worked fiendishly to finish “The Arrogant Years,” my memoir which takes place in Cairo and New York. But whenever I’d put the book aside, I would follow news of the revolt unfolding in Tahrir Square. The revolution was addictive — I couldn’t seem to get enough of it. I found myself constantly clicking on online news of Cairo, or tuning in to CNN. It was all so exciting.

And terrifying. Even as I witnessed the euphoria, I felt a strange sense of alienation — I couldn’t feel much joy or passion, couldn’t quite cheer the protestors as the entire rest of the world seemed to be doing.

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Mourning My Arab Spring

By Lucette Lagnado

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, “The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn,” is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.” Her posts are being featured this week 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:


What is going to happen to the Arab Spring — no no, not that Arab Spring, but my own recent awakening and love affair with the Middle East, and Egypt in particular?

I have been gripped by fear since January, watching the uprisings, not knowing how these movements would all shake out, unable to get my arms around them. Lately, fear has been replaced by sadness and melancholy. I feel as if a chapter is ending for me — the chapter of my personal Arab Spring and my sense that there were possibilities for me in Egypt after years of thinking there were no possibilities.

In the last couple of years since my memoir, “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit” came out, I have savored the opportunity to reach distant audiences, but looking back, nothing stirred me as much as my book’s popularity in Egypt.

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Settling a Debate in a NYC Cab

By June Hersh

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her perfect day, her Jewish culinary journey and unraveling the mystery of Jewish food. Her posts are being featured this week 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 New Yorker, I brave the cracked pavement, dodge the deliverymen on bicycles and boast of my worn MetroCard. But there is one mode of transportation that, while costly, can be more than a way to get from point A to point B. I relish my place firmly seated and belted into the back of the iconic yellow New York City cab. I proudly raise my hand, a little sweaty in the sweltering summer heat or snuggly gloved on a cold winter’s day, to hail the cabs that whiz by. I am that rare passenger who notes the driver’s name not because I am sure I will have to report him to the taxi and limousine commission, but because I want to engage him in conversation and knowing his name makes our ride more personal and relatable.

So what do we talk about? Invariably, politics arises, as most of the cabbies hail from somewhere else and came to America for a better life. They are, at the same time, grateful for America welcoming them and vocal about the mishandling of many current issues. The typical cabbie has the radio on the entire day, and the stations seem to hover on talk radio, where they are inundated with political views and pundits weighing in. I find that whether they moved from West Africa to West Harlem or Jamaica in the Caribbean to Jamaica in Queens, they have focused opinions and a clearer understanding of how politics functions (or doesn’t) than they do of which route is faster and cheaper.

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A Picture Perfect Day

By June Hersh

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her Jewish culinary journey and unraveling the mystery of Jewish food. Her posts are being featured this week 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 am not Martha Stewart, and I don’t have a staff of 20 to help me prepare a dish or stage a photo. But I didn’t need her perks on a sunny August day when I was preparing to photograph my food for “The Kosher Carnivore,” my second book. My first book, “Recipes Remembered” featured historic and archival photos of the survivors whose stories I told. Glossy color shots and well-set vignettes were not appropriate for a book focused on the Holocaust. But for “The Kosher Carnivore,” we wanted to show the yummy food in all its glory, and that meant me and my digital camera would need to be replaced by a professional photographer.

I was not stranded on my kitchen island without some assistance. My two supportive daughters were there to lend a hand. Jennifer would be my enthusiastic sous chef and cleaner-upper — a skill she inherited from her very meticulous and helpful father. Allison would be my set designer, as she has a creative flair and an eye for photography. But the real hero would be noted food photographer Ben Fink. He has shot images for celebrity chefs and Food Network icons, and now he was coming to my house to film my food.

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Journey to the Land of Words

By Noga Shavit-Raz

Crossposted from Haaretz

Until a year ago, Ruvik Rosenthal was sure he had no imagination. Around age 10, he did start writing adventure stories, but at 12, “I had decided to become a journalist, to go for the real things.”

Daniel Tchetchik
Ruvik Rosenthal at his home in Tel Aviv.

After years of writing specialized dictionaries, such as a comprehensive dictionary of slang and a compendium of phrases, he needed a change, and that led to a wonderful children’s book, “Hamasa Hamufla Leeretz Hamilim,” which loosely translates as “The Wonderful Journey to the Land of Words,” soon to be released by Keter. The focus is on the Hebrew language, but the plot is thick with adventures drawn from his imagination.

“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to write a dictionary; it’s about as close as you can get to Hell,” said Rosenthal. “After four and a half years of working on the “Milon Hatzirufim” (the dictionary of Hebrew idioms and phrases), while also working on other things of course, when the book was on the shelves in 2009, I said I need to do a 180-degree about-turn.”

Read more at Haaretz.com

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Unraveling the Mystery of Jewish Food

By June Hersh

June Hersh is the author of “The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book,” available this week. Her posts are being featured this week 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 food writer you need to be prepared to answer just about any question tossed at you during a Q&A. I like to feel I know my subject matter inside and out, and I admit to late night Googling (that sounds x-rated) to research something I am not 100% certain of. While I should be dreaming of food, I am instead trying to unravel its mysteries. My obsession with information is justified as I have been asked if a free-range chicken is happier than its caged neighbor, or whether America’s fascination with hummus is a fad or here to stay. Understanding food is my job, and the better my understanding the more clearly I can communicate the power of food through the recipes I write. No query has kept me awake more nights then a question I was asked during a radio interview: What is Jewish food? Truth is, it’s a great question with no easy answer.

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My Culinary Journey

By June Hersh

June Hersh is the author of “The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book,” available this week. Her posts are being featured this week 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:


If you had told me on my 55th birthday, that in the coming year I would have a cookbook published and a second one in the works, I would have told you to promptly return your crystal ball to Amazon and ask for a full refund. Prior to that year I had many roles, foremost mother and wife, and secondarily as a teacher at the Solomon Schechter Day School, founder of Fancy Schmancy, a children’s clothing company, and resource coordinator for my family’s lighting business. But cookbook author was not on my resume.

After we sold our business, my sister stated what would become our mantra — we did well, now let’s do good. I took those as marching orders and proceeded to discover my newest incarnation, cookbook author. It seemed like a natural choice. I have always been a student of everything food, an adventurous eater and fearless cook. I find that there are not many endeavors that give you the instant gratification cooking does. Maybe it’s the Jewish mother in me, but the act of nurturing and nourishing is in my DNA. So many of my favorite memories are set around the kitchen table as a child, watching my mother lovingly prepare even the simplest dish. She could turn grilled cheese and tomato soup into a five star experience. So it seemed so natural that this would be the niche that I found to bring a new richness to my days.

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The Grandparent-Grandson Relationship

By Avrom Honig

Earlier this week, Avrom Honig shared a behind-the-scenes look at the photoshoot for “Feed Me Bubbe,” talked about coming to the Big City, and introduced us to his production assistant, Zadie. His posts are being featured this week 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:


If you’re watching this blog closely you have seen already parts one, two and three. Now I am thrilled to present part number four, featuring the star of the show herself. Bubbe is here to talk a bit about the importance of having a grandparent-grandchild relationship.

We want to thank all of you for joining me over these past few posts. If you want more entries from me, leave comments below, and who knows, maybe we might do some future updates from the book tour with more behind the scenes action.

For now thank you to all that have purchased our book “Feed Me Bubbe.” Due to your support we can proudly state that we are an Amazon best seller in the kosher category. We know this is just the beginning and we look forward to having you join us on our Facebook page and over at www.feedmebubbe.com.

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Meet Our Production Assistant, Zadie

By Avrom Honig

Earlier this week, Avrom Honig shared a behind-the-scenes look at the photoshoot for “Feed Me Bubbe,” and talked about coming to the big city. His posts are being featured this week 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 hope you’ve enjoyed parts one and two, and now, this time, I have a special guest for all of you. We got one of the big unknown stars of our show, Zadie. ”Zadie” is the Yiddish word for “grandfather.” Zadie plays a huge roll on the show making sure to keep everyone in line.

Any good production is all about having a behind-the-scenes team that really makes sure that everything is perfect. There are times that we are shooting videos where Zadie stops us before we even record because a phone may need to be taken off the hook, or perhaps an item in the kitchen needs to be adjusted because it just doesn’t look right.

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Gabrielle Giffords Memoir Out November 15

By Forward Staff

The previously announced memoir by Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, will be out November 15 according to its publisher, Scribner. The memoir will be titled “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope.”

The book is said to focus on Giffords and Kelly’s relationship, from their courtship until after the January 8 shooting that left the Arizona Democratic Congresswoman severely injured. The book’s co-author is Jeffrey Zaslow, who previously worked with Randy Pausch on “The Last Lecture.”

“Gabby” is one more indication of Gifford’s painstaking recovery. Scribner spokesperson Brian Belfiglio told the Associated Press that Giffords “has been fully engaged with the collaborative writing process of the book at every step.”

On August 2 Giffords returned to Congress to cast her vote on the debt ceiling bill. She has since returned to Houston to continue with her recovery.

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Feed Me Bubbe’s Journey to New York City

By Avrom Honig

Yesterday, Avrom Honig shared a behind the scenes look at the photoshoot for “Feed Me Bubbe.” His posts are being featured this week 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:


If you want to know more about Feed Me Bubbe and an introduction to how we got started then be sure to check out Part One. Just for those joining us we created a book based upon our hit online and televised cooking show because our audience really wanted it. Of course before I knew it we had an agent, a publisher, and I found myself heading to New York City to represent our new book.

The name of the organization was the Jewish Book Council and I would be presenting a two minute speech to representatives from the Jewish Book Network. To someone that was not used to speaking in front of a crowd this could be a huge undertaking. In fact they even told us that the on deck chair was nicknamed the sigh chair, or the deep breath chair. The reason for this is because everyone takes a big breath before they go up on stage, perhaps a sign of nervousness.

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The 'Feed Me Bubbe' Book: Behind the Scenes at the Photoshoot

By Avrom Honig

Avrom Honig is the co-author, with his bubbe, of “Feed Me Bubbe” — originally a hit YouTube series, and now a book. His posts are being featured this week 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:


Greetings, everyone! Let me first introduce myself: My name is Avrom, and I am co-author of an exciting new book based on a hit online and televised cooking show entitled “Feed Me Bubbe.” On the show, my bubbe works on making her family favorite dishes. (By the way, if you don’t know, bubbe is the Yiddish word for “Grandmother.”)

When we first started out, I was just trying to make my mark on Hollywood, trying to find a job. As any good applicant knows, having a demo reel is the key to success. After having a family discussion, we finally decided that what would make the most sense is for me to take a camera and film Bubbe making her favorite food at home.

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Q&A: Vanessa Hidary on Jon Stewart, Dating, and Being the Hebrew Mamita

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Those who appreciate Vanessa Hidary’s unique, fierce voice in her solo performances as the Hebrew Mamita can now enjoy her words in print, as well. “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega,” Hidary’s first book, is a compelling compilation that paints a word picture of a bold Jewish woman ahead of her time. It is a well-organized collection of autobiographical poems, excerpts from her one-woman show “Culture Bandit,” childhood writing and memorabilia, and newly written long-form narratives.

Much of “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega” is set on the multi-cultural Upper West Side of Manhattan, where Hidary grew up in a liberal family of mixed Syrian-Russian descent. It is not hard to perceive the nascent Hebrew Mamita in the young Hidary, who attended local public schools and who — despite having attended Hebrew school and Jewish camps — socialized almost exclusively with Latino and African-American friends.

Hidary still lives on the same block where she grew up. Although known primarily as a spoken word artist, she prefers to be referred to as a writer and solo performer. The Arty Semite spoke to Hidary about Jewish comedy, the vicissitudes of dating, and being the Hebrew Mamita.

Renee Ghert-Zand: how would you describe “The Last Kaiser Roll in the Bodega?”

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Are E-Books Kosher?

By Wayne Hoffman

Earlier this week, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing, the meaning behind the names of a few of his characters, and a gay Jewish reading list. His posts are being featured this week 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:


There’s a scene in my novel “Sweet Like Sugar” where Benji, the main character, finds himself alone in an Orthodox rabbi’s house. The first thing he does is check out the bookshelves that line every wall: religious commentary in the study, nonfiction (in English and Hebrew and occasionally Yiddish) covering everything from ancient Jewish history to the Holocaust in the living room, coffee table books about Israeli art and archaeology in the dining room, kosher cookbooks in the kitchen, even a shelf of poetry in the bedroom. Benji notes the differences between the rabbi’s collection and that of his Conservative parents, which has less scripture but more fiction (Roth, Malamud, Sholom Aleichem), as well as a smattering of non-Jewish books: Civil War histories, Tom Clancy novels, biographies of Bill Clinton and Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Two Jewish households,” Benji muses to himself.

Benji can tell a lot about people by the books they keep. Everyone can. But for how much longer?

We all know about the rise of digital books, whether they’re on your Kindle or your Nook or your iPad. Print editions, meanwhile, are on the decline.

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A Gay Jewish Reading List

By Wayne Hoffman

Earlier this week, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing and shared the meaning behind the names of a few of his characters. His posts are being featured this week 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 first coming out 25 years ago, there were precious few books about being gay and Jewish. Thankfully, that’s not the case today. There are enough to fill whole bookcases. But will anyone who isn’t gay read them?

Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry says that non-gay people won’t read books with gay themes — with the notable exception of works by humorists, such as David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs, who play their lives for laughs. Straight people can’t relate seriously to gay life, the thinking goes; they don’t know from such things, and they don’t want to know.

Even if there’s a kernel of truth in that notion — and I fear, sadly, that there often is — straight Jewish readers in particular should be able to bridge this culture gap by choosing Jewish gay books: While some of the gay content might be unfamiliar, at least the Jewish content will provide a point of identification.

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What’s in a Name?

By Wayne Hoffman

On Monday, Wayne Hoffman wrote about a funny thing. His posts are being featured this week 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 a novel, what’s in a name? There are often dozens of characters in a novel, and some of their names have stories behind them. Others, less than it might seem.

In my first draft of “Sweet Like Sugar” I had a very good reason — I can’t remember it now, but I remember that it was a very good reason — that all the characters my protagonist dated had to have names that started with the letter “C.” My husband Mark, who has been the first person to read my work for more than two decades, told me this was confusing. I revealed my very good reason for keeping the names despite the confusion, and he assured me that my reason was not so very good. He was right, of course; that’s why he’s the first person to read my work.

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A Funny Thing Happened — True Story!

By Wayne Hoffman

Wayne Hoffman‘s most recent book, “Sweet Like Sugar,” is now available. Hoffman is the managing director of special projects at Nextbook. His posts are being featured this week 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 mother has always been a great storyteller: In recounting any anecdote, she knows exactly which details to leave out and which ones to exaggerate for maximum impact. She has a keen sense of the ridiculous. Plus she’s got impeccable timing. Meet her for the first time or the 100th time, and she’ll launch into a story that’ll have you laughing in 30 seconds.

Okay, maybe that makes her more of a stand-up comedian than a storyteller. But we’re Jews. It’s a fine line.

With her excellent sense of what makes a story compelling, she’s always on the lookout for her son-the-writer. “Here’s something you could write about,” she’ll tell me as she launches into a new bit, almost begging me to steal her material. Or, after I tell her something she finds particularly amusing, she’ll advise me: “You should write a book about that!

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Pro-Israel? Anti-Israel? No, Just Israel

By Darin Strauss

Earlier this week, Darin Strauss wrote about wrestling with faith and about what we believe. His posts are being featured this week 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 week, the American Jewish Committee renounced a statement made by one of its staffers. The AJC’s Director on Anti-Semitism suggested that some Israel supporters are distorting the 1964 Civil Rights Act when they argue that colleges that hire anti-Israel professors and support anti-Israel rallies are in violation of the law. The Director said that the Israel supporters went too far.

I am a college professor and a Jew and a supporter of the State of Israel, but the issue is too complicated for me to address directly, with anything like authority. But it did remind me — as it probably does you — of dealings I’ve had with relatives. The issue is too divisive to leave many Jewish families untouched.

In my case, I have relatives who will brook no criticism of any Israeli government. (And I’m sure they’d complain that I criticize Israel too quickly.)

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What We Believe

By Darin Strauss

On Monday, Darin Strauss wrote about wrestling with faith. His posts are being featured this week 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 done an informal poll — I admit, it’s very informal — among Jews I know: What do we believe? A pretty fundamental question, right? And yet there is no consensus of belief, even regarding the most bedrock principles of faith.

What’s more, this belief discrepancy doesn’t exist just between our religion’s big three wings (between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox); it exists within them, too. Ask a few observant Jews what happens to us after we die.

Some will say: “We sit at the hand of God — and the closer we are to Him, the more kindly we had been on Earth.”

Some will say: “We live on, in the memories of our friends.”

Some will say — and these are people who believe, as Madonna does, in the Kabbalah — that there are seven actual heavens.

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The Great Media Non-Conspiracy

By Paul Buhle

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone On the Media
By Brooke Gladstone, Illustrated by Josh Neufeld
W. W. Norton & Company, 158 pages, $26.00

An icon of many a household’s Sunday listening, Brooke Gladstone and her show “On the Media,” with Bob Garfield as co-host, has for my (pledge) money the liveliest program on National Public Radio.

This book is, at any rate, the first effort to explore Gladstone’s subject in one of the most creative printed ways: comic art. It bears the stamp of comic artist Josh Neufeld, an erstwhile collaborator of the late Harvey Pekar, who has also produced a much-praised graphic novel treatment of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans. In “The Influencing Machine,” Neufeld’s work is tinted bluish, giving it a slightly ghostly effect, offset by the directness of the caricatures. It’s a great fit.

In the advance publicity, Gladstone calls “The Influencing Machine” a “manifesto masquerading as a history.” This thought dominates the pages in more than one way. Not only does she offer her own philosophy of communication from the Stone Age onward, she also seeks to demystify the subject and to loosen the grip of conspiracy from the public’s understanding of media.

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