Earlier, David Ehrlich wrote about the shared culture, language, and fate of Israelis. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
My third book was published this week. Needless to say, I’m somewhere between panic and excitement. It’s the first one in English after my two books in Hebrew. When I come up with a new book I’m preoccupied with all kinds of questions, such as:
With my new book published in the U.S., I also have worries as an Israeli author, such as:
David Ehrlich has published two books of short stories in Hebrew, “18 Blue” and “Tuesday and Thursday Mornings.” His newest book, “Who Will Die Last: Stories of Life in Israel,” is now available. His bookstore-cafe in Jerusalem, Tmol-Shilshom, is a haven for avant garde artists and writers, hosting readings by authors such as David Grossman, Etgar Keret, and A. B. Yehoshua. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Here’s something that just happened to me. I was walking with an American friend in the picturesque quarter of Neve-Tsedek in Tel-Aviv, looking for an ice cream place called “Savta” (Grandma). We asked someone where it was and he showed us the way, just two blocks from there. “But you know what,” he confided, “There’s an even better ice cream place in the other direction, also very near.” We still continued to Savta’s, either because of the attractive name or because we saw from a distance the beautiful setting in a shady, flourishing side alley. Ice cream is not only ice cream, it’s also the experience around it, right?
As we took our seats, my American friend said, “I can’t believe it. In the U.S. they’d have told you exactly how to get there and that’s all. Here, they’ll tell you that there’s a better ice cream.”
“Of course,” I said, “and I’m surprised this guy didn’t recommend the flavors.”
Lynda Obst is a Hollywood insider but not a fan of what she sees happening in Tinseltown. A former editor of The New York Times Magazine, she became a successful producer, with such films as “The Fisher King” and “Sleepless in Seattle” to her credit.
But at some point, Obst realized that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore — or suburban New York, where she grew up. She was finding it increasingly difficult to get her kind of films made. Hollywood execs, she claims, became less interested in movies with staying power than in films that open wide (in 3,000 or so theaters) and have big initial weekends. This take-the-money-and-run philosophy meant making films that attract teenage boys: They dominate the first weekend audience, which is why you’re as likely to find your favorite superhero on the silver screen as in a comic book.
In 1996, Obst wrote “Hello, He Lied,” about her experiences in the modern studio system. She’s followed that — a sequel, in movie speak — with the just published “Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business” (Simon & Schuster).
Obst spoke to The Arty Semite about feeling “lost in translation” when she first arrived on the Left Coast, the changing landscape of the film business and dinner table arguments between the religious and secular branches of her family while she was growing up.
Curt Schleier: Let’s start with a chicken-or-egg question: What came first, older people not going to the movies, or the film business not making movies that interest the older crowd?
Earlier this week Timothy D. Lytton wrote about a recent scandal at a kosher meat market in L.A. and organized crime and kosher food certification. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Kosher food certification has come a long way in the past 100 years (see my earlier posts on the Baff Murder and the L.A. kosher meat scandal). Consumer vigilance has been a key factor in improving the reliability of kosher certification. Of the estimated 12 million American consumers who buy kosher products because they are certified kosher, 8% are religious Jews who eat only kosher food.
This core of religiously observant consumers is highly motivated to monitor the reliability of kosher certification. They call agency hotlines to report improperly labeled products — for example, products with a pareve (indicating the absence of any dairy products) label that nonetheless list dairy ingredients on their packages, packages with agency symbols that appear to be counterfeit, or items that contain ingredients that the consumers suspect are not kosher.
Earlier this week, Matthue Roth wrote about why kids love scary stories. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I was trying to figure out how to get people to buy “My First Kafka” from me directly instead of, say, Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy when anyone buys my book from anywhere, but it’s a nice feeling when you actually sell the copy yourself. (Also, you make slightly more than the 43 cents per copy or whatever that you get from your publisher, but that’s a different story.)
So I wrote this tiny mini-book. It’s a short story, and it’s called “The Last Golem in Prague.” It was an 11th-hour creation in every sense. The books had just arrived in the mail, people were actually buying them, which I couldn’t (and still mostly can’t) believe, and I had to send out something. For months I’d sat in front of my notebook, page blank, wondering what sort of story I should write for whatever people might buy my weird children’s book.
And then, at 11:59 or so, everything clicked together.
Earlier this week Timothy D. Lytton wrote about organized crime and kosher food certification. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
This past March, the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market, Los Angeles’s largest purveyor of kosher meat, was discovered smuggling repackaged meat of unknown provenance through the back door of his butcher shop. The mashgiach (kosher supervisor), had unlocked the door for deliveries and then, against kosher protocol, left the premises to attend to personal business, leaving the market unsupervised. Erupting the day before the start of the Passover holiday, the scandal cast doubt on the status of thousands of briskets roasting in ovens throughout the city. An emergency council of rabbinic authorities held just in time for Passover seder that consumers could presume that meat previously purchased from Doheny was kosher.
The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), which provided supervision to Doheny’s came under fire for the misfeasance of its mashgiach.
As a result of the scandal, the RCC’s reputation suffered. Several restaurants under RCC supervision switched to a rival certification agency, Kehilla Kosher. To stem the damage, the RCC called in the nation’s largest kosher certifier, the Orthodox Union (OU), to audit its supervision at three L.A. restaurants and reassure the public of its reliability. According to coverage by L.A.’s Jewish Journal:
Matthue Roth’s newest book is “My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs.” He lives in Brookyn with his family and keeps a secret diary at www.matthue.com. 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 parents are getting ready to move, to abandon the house I’ve lived in since I was born, and we traveled down to Philadelphia to help them. (No, that’s a lie: We traveled down because I had a reading for my new picture book, “My First Kafka,” and school is out, and we were getting ready to dump the kids with them for a week.) Everything is in boxes. If there’s one thing my kids are good at (there’s a million things), it’s causing chaos. They promptly set to work unpacking the remains of my parents’ life.
My 5-year-old daughter promptly uncovered “Treasure Island.” Yes, the book. It was an illustrated — though uncut — edition. “Read it,” she demanded.
Hey, what kind of father would I be to deny classic literature to my next of kin? I read.
We reached the first death — a gristly scene where Billy Bones, an old seaman, gorges himself on rum, stabs an old fellow pirate, then collapses dead on the floor. “Are you sure you want me to keep going?” I asked her.
“Read,” she urged me.
Timothy D. Lytton is the author of the recently published “Kosher: Private Regulation in the Age of Industrial Food” (Harvard University Press). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
The Toronto Star recently reported that several firebombings of kosher restaurants in Quebec may not be the work of anti-Semites but rather part of “a kosher restaurant war in the predominantly Jewish west-end neighborhood of Hampstead.” The Star described the latest bombing in a June 15 article:
Around closing time last weekend two men walked into Montreal’s Chops Resto-Bar, tossed a flaming Molotov cocktail toward the bar and escaped on foot, though not before a security camera picked them up.
The damage was limited to a scorched section of the restaurant’s wall and shock among the 20-odd diners wrapping up their meal shortly after midnight Saturday. But there was clearly something nefarious at play. This was the third time since 2011 that Chops, a kosher establishment that serves Asian fusion cuisine, had been targeted with a flaming bottle.
While shocking, this kind of violence is not new in the kosher world.
Earlier this week, Kathy Ebel wrote about her German-Jewish family and Nice Jewish Girl protagonists from New York City. Her first novel, “Claudia Silver to the Rescue” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 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:
Memorial Day, 2007. I’ve drifted away from a Santa Monica beach party to gaze out at the Pacific Ocean, plus my navel, when an unfamiliar woman approaches. We chat a bit—she’s a literary agent based in New York, the sister of the hostess—and then she asks the dreaded question. “So…what are you working on these days?” I pause to consider before answering. You know when people say to cute, charismatic single women, “You’re so fabulous—I just can’t believe you’re single!” and they want to punch them in the face and then kill themselves? This was a work version of that.
You see, I’ve been living in Los Angeles for seven years, having left my native New York City to seek my fortune as a screenwriter with a soap opera credit and a fresh pile of TV spec scripts in my kit bag, but the steady ascent I’ve pictured, and that I’ve seen other people achieve, hasn’t happened. I’ve been working so damn hard for so long and I feel like I’m nowhere, other than crushed. How could that be, when I’ve done everything I’ve seen other people doing—and what my various agents have told me to do?
Earlier this week, Kathy Ebel wrote about Nice Jewish Girl protagonists from New York City. Her first novel, “Claudia Silver to the Rescue” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 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:
“Ashkenazi.” “Sephardi.” As a kid, wandering around the kiddish reception at our shul collecting cellophane ruffle-topped toothpicks in a plastic cup, I heard these terms bandied far above my head by adults and had no idea what they meant. Were these languages? Politicians? Street gangs, like in West Side Story?
As a first-generation American and the daughter of German-Jewish refugees, I was pretty sure these mysterious terms didn’t have anything to do with me. We were Jews who kept kosher and went to shul, but we didn’t eat or do the things that seemed officially Jewy, like, Fiddler on the Roof-Jewy. My single mother didn’t bake kugel, or encircle the flames of the Shabbat candles with her hands when she made her brachot, or bobby pin a white nylon doily to the back of her head for services (nor would she have dreamed of wearing a kippah like some of her friends from her Consciousness Raising group). My mother used no Yiddishims in her speech, other than “shul” and “shlep” and, while cursing other drivers, “schmuck.” I wasn’t sent to Jewish sleepaway camp to meet my future spouse or bridesmaids or employers. And on Christmas Day, we did not go to the movies or eat Chinese food.
Kathy Ebel, a first-generation American, was born in Manhattan. Her blog, Fatherland: There’s No Place Like Home, or How and Why a Nice Jewish Girl Asked Germany to Take Her Back, chronicles her quest to have her German citizenship restored. Kathy considers Brooklyn her hometown and currently lives with her family in Los Angeles. “Claudia Silver to the Rescue” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is her first novel. 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 think of Claudia Silver, the eponymous heroine of my debut novel, “Claudia Silver to the Rescue,” as one in an anxious, spirited line of Nice Jewish Girl protagonists from New York City. This lineage starts with Lily Bart, Edith Wharton’s A-list flibbertigibbet in “The House of Mirth,” then moves on to Herman Wouk’s “Marjorie Morningstar” (who put up with that scoundrel Noel Airman’s hijinks for about 100 riveting pages too long), Gail Parent’s Sheila Levine (if only 30 had been the new 20 in 1972), Erica Jong’s Isadora Wing, and Melissa Bank’s Jane Rosenal. Yes, I know that Lily Bart wasn’t Jewish. But if only she’d married Simon Rosedale! (Sob! Gnashing of teeth! She could’ve given him a make-under!)
Claudia Silver possesses some key traits that connect her to her literary sisters. She’s got a loud speaking voice and wobbly self-worth, she finds comfort in self-destructive habits and relationships, and she’s paralyzed by her own ambivalence. She’s helpful and selfish, fierce and vulnerable. She’s got a keen sense of class and caste, ranking herself ruthlessly in any given social situation. She knows how to dance, and how to accessorize. But unlike Lily and Marjorie, whom I adore, but let’s face it, whether it’s in the back of a hat shop or lower Westchester, they both die from denial, Claudia wakes up. And she does so along a particularly Jewish continuum.
A Star of David carved into the chest of a murdered journalist signals this is no ordinary crime. Which means Jonah Geller, the world-weary private investigator hired by the victim’s family in “Miss Montreal,” is the right man for the job.
A Jewish atheist as tough as he’s sharp, Geller is the creation of Howard Shrier, a Montreal-born, Toronto-based writer who shares more than a little of Jonah’s DNA. After forays to Chicago and Boston, the third Jonah Geller mystery takes the investigator to Montreal, where a childhood friend has been brutally slain. The city’s French/English and Arab/Jewish tensions take center stage in the book, which beautifully evokes Montreal’s complex cultural textures — and nails the city through deeply etched characters and locations.
Shrier, who now teaches writing at University of Toronto, spoke to The Arty Semite from his home.
Michael Kaminer: What does a Jewish private investigator bring to the genre that, say, a Presbyterian PI wouldn’t?
Howard Shrier: Were I Presbyterian, I’d be writing books from that point of view. Were I Irish Catholic, like Dennis Lehane or Ken Bruen, I might have made my PI a tortured drinker. But my world view, my voice — Jonah’s voice — are what I have to offer. I don’t think a non-Jewish hero would have a voice like his, and I doubt a non-Jewish writer could create a consistent Jewish hero like him.
Earlier this week, Royal Young discussed his decision to change his name, interviewed his grandparents, and wrote about his parents’ reaction to his debut memoir, “Fame Shark.” 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 father’s artwork was always how I made sense of the world around me. The sometimes scary, ghetto Lower East Side I grew up in was beautiful, interesting and safe when shaded by his paints. His devotion to his artwork, but also creative, compassionate parenting, inspired me early on to pursue my own artistic passions. I would sit in Dad’s sun drenched studio dictating stories about suicidal whales before I could write.
Dad encouraged my taste for tragedy and drama by reading me bedtime stories beyond my years. With me in the cozy crook of his flannel arm, under soft yellow lamps he turned the pages and read 10-year-old me Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham, Dickens’s “Great Expectations” and “Mildred Pierce” by James M. Cain. These guilty, lonely, decadent, sexual stories were a dazzling escape from the Lower East Side of the early ‘90s. They infuse my writing to this day.
On the back flap of his new book, Victor Navasky is portrayed in a kinetic caricature by the illustrious Edward Sorel. It’s one clue about Navasky’s deep connection to political cartoons explored in “The Art of Controversy,” a personal history as well as learned survey of the form.
The former editor and publisher of The Nation, Navasky first published political cartoons as editor of Monocle, a “radical sporadical” satirical journal he founded in the late 1950s. More recently, he engaged with the infamous “Muhammad” cartoons that sparked rioting across the Muslim world, choosing not to run them in this very book, a decision he explains at length. With lucid, funny takes on artists from William Hogarth to Ralph Steadman to Doug Marlette — and an entire chapter on Der Sturmer, the Nazi propaganda magazine whose vicious cartoons demonized Jews — Navasky brings the art form’s power to life. The Arty Semite spoke to him from Manhattan.
Michael Kaminer: What is it about cartoons that spark such emotional reactions?
Earlier this week, Royal Young interviewed his grandparents and wrote about his parents’ reaction to his debut memoir “Fame Shark.” 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 changed my name from Hazak Brozgold to Royal Young when I was 20 years old. I was a drunk college drop-out who had moved back into my parent’s Lower East Side apartment with big, unrealistic dreams and a drinking habit too large for my childhood bedroom. Getting rid of my hard to pronounce Hebrew name felt like a step toward escaping my youth and my disapproving Jewish parents. My moniker had set me apart in classrooms and the ghetto downtown streets I’d grown up in. The Lower East Side of my youth was broken glass on uneven sidewalks, fast domino games, sneakers hanging from streetlights, Hip Hop blasting bass heavy from car windows. My grandparent’s days, when the neighborhood was an Eastern European shtetl transplant, were long gone. My parents had literally missed the boat.
They named me Hazak Brozgold to make up for it. Hazak means “strong” in Hebrew. But I always felt weak. A shy, quiet bookworm I shrank from the rough streets around me, finding escape in making my neuropsychologist mom administer me Rorsach tests instead of going on play dates, or painting crude canvasses with my artist/social worker father in his cluttered studio.
Earlier this week, Royal Young wrote about his parents’ reaction to his debut memoir, “Fame Shark.” 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 maternal grandmother fought to escape her Lower East Side. My Babbi was born in 1932 and raised on Pitt Street and Houston, a few blocks from where I would grow up years later. She was the daughter of Orthodox Austrian immigrants who came through Ellis Island in 1919 with thousands of other displaced Jews, gazing in awe at the Statue of Liberty from the steerage deck of a third-class freighter.
The Lower East Side of the ’30s was an Eastern European shtetl transplant, an unruly Jewish village struggling through the end of the Depression. Its tenements teemed with immigrants who practiced wild customs — matchmaking, interpreting prophesies from dreams — that they’d imported with silver menorahs hidden under rags during the ocean passage.
My handsome grandfather had a bachelor pad on Henry Street before he was a Zayde. They met when he taught my Babbi art and their hearts filled over many hours developing photographs in dim darkrooms. Images of her from that time are coy and striking, he bold and laughing. Their eyes gleam for adventure, conquest, love, glory, knowledge.
Royal Young’s debut memoir “Fame Shark” will be released June 2013 from Heliotrope Books. Young contributes to Interview Magazine, New York Post, BOMB Magazine and The Lo Down. 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 sound like a cheap, mean kyke,” my father raged. “I sound like an idiot, a complete non-entity,” my mother was furious too. I had been nervous about them reading my first memoir, “Fame Shark,” but none of my jitters had prepared me for this ballistic reaction. We were sitting down to breakfast at Castillo, a Dominican restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side where I had grown up eating delicious homefries colored orange from Sofrito. Now they stuck in my throat.
For me, the book was a monument to the obvious: I was in love with both my parents. But raised by two Jews who were brilliant psychoanalysts, my love had a darkness, a depth, an introspection I’d learned from them. Wasn’t that a good thing? Wasn’t that flattering?
“So, it’s basically fiction,” Mom said,”a lot of this stuff never happened.” It was true that I had purposefully pandered to a modern American culture that had the attention span of meth addicts. I’d cut all the “boring” bits out of my life in this telling. But fiction? No way. It had been hard, terrifying and humbling to write truths about myself: I had been bullied to the point of molestation as a kid, I had later exchanged sex for money and movie roles, cultivated friendships with drug dealers, sunk to supreme unhappiness at the altar of celebrity worship. I had begun writing “Fame Shark” still half in the throes of an idiotic, unoriginal fantasy that the book itself would lift me into celebrity. Only the therapeutic writing of it had helped take me out of my own narcissism/self-hatred (a diagnosis my parents had once agreed with, in our darkest conflicts).
Earlier this week, Janice Weizman wrote about writing historical fiction and the bildungsroman and the Jewish woman. 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:
“Many artists are ‘underground’,” a writing instructor of mine once remarked, “but no one is more underground than writers.” To that I would add that no one is more underground than writers who don’t write in the language of the place they live. It amounts to a sort of double life. On the outside, you function in the same language as everyone around you. But then you have this other world, where you think and create in the tongue of a stranger. Your boss, the next-door neighbors, the mother of your child’s best friend and Moshe from the makolet might be aware that you are working on a novel, but you know, from the very first word you write, that they will probably never read it.
While I was writing “The Wayward Moon,” a novel which takes place in the 9th century Middle East, the situation was even more confusing. I was constantly alert to the fact that rather than Hebrew or English, my characters would have spoken something that sounds like Ha lachma anya di achalu avtania, and dizabin abah bitrei zuzei. If, like me, these phrases from the Haggadah are all the Aramaic you know, then you understand the difficulty.
Earlier this week, David Samuel Levinson wrote about the beautiful catastrophe that is New York City and dedicating his first novel, “Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence” (Algonquin Books). 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 sitting on the back porch of my temporary lodgings in Atlanta, while two spiders go at it, the smaller invading the larger’s web. (Why? Who knows. Maybe he or she is lonely.) Larger lunges at smaller, until smaller retreats, and both settle down again to await the arrival of an unsuspecting fly. Watching them, I am reminded of “Charlotte’s Web,” which I read when I was boy, and how caught up I became in the struggles of Charlotte and Wilbur and how I never wanted the story to end. Unfortunately, it did, yet fortunately for me I found many other stories to get tangled up in — Encyclopedia Brown, The Westing Game, The Tales of Narnia, and Bridge to Terabithia.
Back then, I read only for pleasure and escape and erroneously imagined these books I so loved to be handed down through a series of magic tricks to end up in my favorite bookstore. I had no idea they were written by real people, who sat at real desks and typed them out on real typewriters, arduous page after arduous page. These books, these authors, changed the way I saw the world, but more than this they changed the way I interacted with it. I learned about sleuthing, betrayal, love, and death by falling headfirst into these created universes, which matched the reality of my own only insofar as they resembled the familiar — houses, trees, the sun and moon, stars, streets, etc. Other than this, they were as fantastical as they were absorbing; I couldn’t wait to flip the page to find out what happened next.
On Tuesday, David Samuel Levinson wrote about dedicating his first novel, “Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence” (Algonquin Books). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
When someone asks me where I’m from, I never hesitate to say that I’m from New York City. Then, a little ashamed, I often confess that I’m not really from New York, that I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. While I did not spend my formative years in the city, I have always considered myself a New Yorker, which probably has to do with all those summers I spent on Long Island with my mother’s parents. The day trips to Jones Beach and into the city to see a play or wander around Macy’s! Some of my favorite memories still involve being stopped between stations on the subway or the Long Island Railroad. And then our slow approach into Penn Station and the skyscrapers obliterating the sky and my mother leading my brother and me up into the beautiful, congested fray that is Manhattan.
Every step I took along those overpopulated sidewalks, every museum and bookstore I wandered through, every salty pretzel I pulled apart and devoured—all of it was leading me closer to my future self. At the time, I had little idea that years later I’d live in and among those crowds, museums, bookstores, and pretzel carts, though I should’ve suspected as much, given my early fondness for the city. When I was a boy, I fell head over heels in love with the city, yet it wasn’t until I finally moved there as a young adult that I came to really believe what Le Corbusier meant when he said, “A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.”