The Arty Semite

How David Laskin Discovered Family's Past

By Curt Schleier

A family rumor was the genesis of David Laskin’s extraordinary new book, “The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the 20th Century.”

Laskin heard from his mother who heard it from her cousin Barbara who heard it from her parents: that they were related to Lazar Kaganovich, henchman of Joseph Stalin and a perpetrator of the famine genocide that killed millions of Ukrainians in the early 1930s.

Because Laskin’s great aunt Itel (Ida) Rosenberg founded the Maidenform Bra Co., at one point the largest privately held company in America, Laskin, who spoke to the Forward on the phone from his home in Seattle, thought he had “a fantastic idea for a new book, the juxtaposition of a communist monster and a capitalist tycoon in the same family.”

While his research proved the Stalin connection a canard, he discovered there was another part of his family he knew absolutely nothing about: “an entire branch of the family killed in the Holocaust,” Laskin said.

Laskin found out about his family’s tragic past when he met his Israeli cousin Benny Kaganovitz for the first time while traveling to Israel for his research.

Benny had interviewed his mother, Sonia, a pioneer, and wrote two unpublished memoirs about her early experiences. He also saved over 300 letters Sonia received from her family in the Pale, of the Settlement, in Volozhin, home of the famed Volozhin yeshiva. Going back at least four generations, the family patriarchs were torah scribes. Among the letters, which were written in Yiddish, were several from Sonia’s grandfather, Sholom Tvi, who’d gone to visit relatives in the United States, just before World War.

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10 Ways to Celebrate Jewish Book Month

By Erika Dreifus

The Holy Days are barely behind us, and we’re already preparing for Hanukkah (the first day of which, as some have realized, coincides with American Thanksgiving this year). But between these events comes something else that should be on your calendar: Jewish Book Month.

Running this year from October 26 to November 26, Jewish Book Month is associated most visibly with the New York-based Jewish Book Council. Many of the author visits to North American synagogues and Jewish community centers that are highlights of local Jewish book festivals occur during this time period. Check this list of sites associated with the Jewish Book Council to see what may be planned during Jewish Book Month in your area.

But whether you’re in New York or New Zealand, you can find ways to appreciate the richness and diversity of Jewish books and writing over the next month. Here are 10 suggestions:

1) New York’s 92nd Street Y will host the East Coast premiere of “Saffron and Rosewater: Songs and Stories from Persian Jewish Women” (November 23). The performance is adapted from work by Gina Nahai, Angella Nazarian, Farideh Goldin, Dora Levy Mossanen, Esther Amini and composer Niki Black. The writers will participate in a Q&A following the performance.

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Chani Kaufmann?

By Liam Hoare

Chani and Baruch are about to get married. In her heavy, layered dress, the sweat drips down the hollow of her back and collects in pools under her arms. She has never been kissed, never held a boy’s hand. As for Baruch, such is his panic that he cannot even remember Chani’s face, though they had been on three or four dates. The wedding night is within sight, a cause of anxiety for them both, each knowing nothing of the other or much about the act itself.

The Rebbetzin, meanwhile, is pregnant at 44 and knows that this child will be her last. One evening she awakes to find the bed wet and sits up in a spasm of panic. She calls upon her husband, Chaim, to do something and yet he is impotent in the moment, frozen by the scene playing out in front of him. The best he can do for his wife is cover her hair as she is carried off on a stretcher into the waiting ambulance.

Set in the ultra-Orthodox enclaves of northwest London, Eve Harris’s “The Marrying of Chani Kaufmann” takes these scenes as its starting point, ambitiously shifting between perspectives and generations and examining a cloistered world with a judgmental outsiders’ eye. “Chani Kaufmann” was recently longlisted for the Man Booker Prize (though not shortlisted) and sold out its initial print run in the United Kingdom. The attention has been a surprise to many not only due to the narrowness of the subject but since its publisher, Sandstone Press, is a relatively small outfit based in Scotland.

“The writing is fresh and bold and the author has shone a light on an unfamiliar corner of life and experience,” Eilidh Smith of Sandstone Press told The Forward, when asked why they would pick up and publish a novel about London’s Haredim. “The terrific subplot of the Rabbi’s wife and her struggle is another element which really leapt out for us, making this book, which was already far more than a boy meets girl story, quite dazzling — endings and beginnings and the bit in-between.

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Ryan Braun Yanked from ‘Jewish Sports Stars’ Cover

By Forward Staff

If you’re Jewish, and a sports star, you probably have an assured spot in David J. Goldman’s “Jewish Sports Stars: Past and Present.” But if you’re found to be violating Major League Baseball’s enhancing drug policy, you might not make the cover.

So it goes for Ryan Braun, the disgraced slugger who was suspended for the remainder the 2013 baseball season after he tested positive for steroid use. Braun has now been removed from the cover of “Jewish Sports Stars,” published by Kar-Ben, Publishers Weekly reported.

Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman told PW that “While Ryan Braun is a very talented baseball player and we were originally excited to have a contemporary sports figure of his talent and stature with such a strong identification to his Jewish heritage on the cover, there was no question that, after the steroids scandal surfaced, his image was tarnished and he was no longer appropriate to serve as a role model for Jewish kids.”

The book, now in its second edition, was scheduled to be published in August but was delayed until October for the change to be made. The original cover showed Braun alongside Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman. Braun will be now replaced by — who else? —Sandy Koufax.

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Malamud's 'Refugee' at 50

By Erika Dreifus

A version of this post originally appeared on Ron Hogan’s Beatrice blog.

I owe my discovery of Bernard Malamud’s “The German Refugee” — published 50 years ago Saturday — to “The Best American Short Stories of the Century,” which joined my bookshelf shortly after its release. And although I don’t normally use the word “frisson” in everyday conversation, it describes exactly what went through me when I saw the title of Malamud’s story in the anthology’s table of contents.

Reading this story as a writer, I noticed several elements. First, there is the first-person narrator through whose eyes we learn of another character and his conflicts. Perhaps the most famous example of this technique is the Nick Carraway narrative of Jay Gatsby’s story in “The Great Gatsby.” In “The German Refugee,” American Martin Goldberg recounts the tale of the eponymous “German Refugee,” an older German-Jewish man named Oskar Gassner, whom Martin describes as “the Berlin critic and journalist” who had fled Germany in the months after the Kristallnacht of November 1938. In those days, Martin tells us, he “made a little living” by tutoring such refugees in English, and the meat of the story recalls the summer of 1939, when Martin worked with Gassner in preparation for the latter’s delivery of a lecture in English.

Then, too, for anyone who focuses on language, this story yields rich rewards. One sees how a character — in this case, a refugee character — gains definition through speech: “‘Zis heat,’ he muttered…. ‘Impozzible. I do not know such heat.’ It was bad enough for me but terrible for him. He had difficulty breathing.”

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Booker-Nominated Novel Raises Jewish Themes

By Liam Hoare

Laura and Marina are strangers. Their home in London is an island with a foreign culture, a cramped flat in Bayswater in which they are themselves outsiders. Their keepers — Laura’s mother-in-law, Marina’s grandmother, and her two sisters — are Hungarian, and speak with a heavily-accented English. Dar-link, they say. Von-darefool. Tair-ible. They host parties where cold sour-cherry soup, stuffed cabbage, and a carp suspended in jelly are served, and the guests have coiffed hair and wear faux-fox.

Marina doesn’t fit in outside the home, either. A boarding student at Combe, a stereotypical English public school — “Cricket pavilions, and midnight feasts, and Gothic stone. Oh yes.” — she initially had dreams of reinvention. “She would have to change her old self. She needed class. She spent the summer preparing.” She read “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” and “Billy Bunter” as one might a textbook, and tore out pages from old issues of the Tatler:

This was it: the future. It would feature cheery refectory meals beside tall friendly English girls with welcoming families; stimulating lessons in well-equipped Victorian laboratories; handsome boys writing her sonnets beneath historic oak trees. Soon it would not matter that she could neither hurdle nor paint nor sing, for at Combe she would blossom and become herself.

“And even when she had waved her family goodbye on the terrible first day, she had not realised how much worse it would become.” Marina soon finds herself lonely and isolated, her visions of transformation dashed, and after every half term she seriously contemplates never going back. Marina is, as the title of Charlotte Mendelson’s Booker-longlisted new novel would have it, “Almost English,” almost Hungarian, neither here or there, not fully of either world.

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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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What Soccer Gave the Jews

By Liam Hoare

Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?: The Story of English Football’s Forgotten Tribe
By Anthony Clavane
Quercus Publishing, 304 Pages

Anthony Clavane’s accomplished and engaging work “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” now out in paperback, is not about what Jews have given to English soccer, so much as what soccer has given to English Jews.

This is not to minimize the contribution Jews have made to the game, particularly off-the-field. Clavane highlights the role of Willy Meisl, an Austrian sports journalist who not only bequeathed new ideas and tactics to the stodgy, long-ball English soccer of the 1950s, but also imparted a more cerebral, less oafish manner of discussing and analysing the game. Meisl spoke eloquently about soccer from the perspective “of the discerning outsider looking in, expressing a passion for, but still not quite becoming part of, English soccer.”

In the boardroom, during the 1980s and ‘90s, Irving Scholar of Tottenham Hotspur and David Dein at Arsenal imported ideas from the United States about match days being an experience of their own. They sought to improve stadia to make them more family-friendly and to appeal to the middle class, as well as to exploit revenue streams such as merchandising. In laying the groundwork for what would become the Premier League, Scholar and Dein helped revolutionize English soccer by turning it into a product.

But for English Jewry as a community, these accomplishments are representative of the opportunities soccer has presented to become part of the whole. Clavane writes:

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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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From Awkward Fat Kid to Confident Gay Activist

By Michael Kaminer

A plump, cherubic bar-mitzvah boy beams from the cover the new memoir “Oy Vey! I’m Glad I’m Gay!” (Intracoastal Media). That’s Barry Losinsky, the book’s author, a retired Maryland school psychologist and one of many unsung pioneers in a generation of gay men who came out when it still felt dangerous.

Born to Russian-immigrant parents, Losinsky grappled with his sexual identity — and weight issues — as the Vietnam war raged and race riots roared through Baltimore; with raw humor and disarming candor, the book details Losinsky’s journey from awkward fat kid to sexually confident, happily partnered activist. The Arty Semite caught up with him by email in suburban Baltimore, where he lives with his partner George.

Michael Kaminer: We’re talking just a few weeks after the DOMA ruling. Did you ever think you’d see something like it in your lifetime?

Barry Losinsky: I never in my wildest dreams ever thought that gay and lesbian individuals would be allowed to marry in my lifetime. My major concern, and that of my life partner of 46 years, had been the inheritance tax when one of us was no longer around. We’ve worked hard over the years for what we’ve got, and the inheritance tax in our state is the 10%. That’s a lot of money. So years ago, he legally adopted me as his son to avoid that 10%. It’s been a marvelous conversation piece.

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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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Jewish Novel Included on Man Booker Longlist

By Reuters

Life in London’s Jewish community and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, billionaires in China and hard times in Ireland all feature in the novels vying for this year’s Man Booker Prize.

The longlist for the prize, one of the English language’s top fiction awards, names 13 writers from seven countries.

“This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject,” said Robert Macfarlane, a writer and Cambridge University academic who chairs the panel of five judges.

“These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000 and from Shanghai to Hendon,” he said in a statement announcing the list.

Selected from 151 titles, it includes authors from Britain, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Malaysia and Ireland.

Two authors, Jim Crace with “Harvest” and Colm Toibin with “The Testament of Mary,” have appeared on the award’s shortlist previously.

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How To Be an Egotistical Writer From South Africa

By Liam Hoare

Things I Don’t Want to Know: A Response to George Orwell’s Why I Write
By Deborah Levy
Notting Hill Editions

In his 1946 essay “Why I Write,” George Orwell identified four great motives for writing, including aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. The other, he observed, was that writers are “vain and self-centred,” motivated by egoism and a “desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood. It is humbug to pretend that [egoism] is not a motive, and a strong one,” he wrote.

Deborah Levy would seem to quibble with that last bit. In her recent response to Orwell’s essay, “Things I Don’t Want to Know,” Levy ponders:

Perhaps when Orwell described sheer egoism as a necessary quality for a writer, he was not thinking about the sheer egoism of a female writer. Even the most arrogant female writer has to work over time to build an ego that is robust enough to get her through January, never mind all the way to December.

Billed as a feminist reply to Orwell, Levy’s political purpose is indeed related to gender — both as female stereotypes in literature and gender constructs in society:

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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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