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.
The Jewish Book Council has named the five finalists of this year’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, the Forward has learned. Carolyn Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council, told the Forward that the five finalists are Sarah Bunin Benor for “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism”; Matti Friedman for “The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of One of the World’s Most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books”; Nina S. Spiegel for “Embodying Hebrew Culture: Aesthetics, Athletics, and Dance in the Jewish Community of Mandate Palestine”; Eliyahu Stern for “The Genius: Elija of Vilna and the Making of Modern Judaism” and Marni Davis for “Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition.”
The $100,000 prize, the largest of its kind in the world, will be given in 2014. Last year the award was given to Francesca Segal for her novel “The Innocents” and two years ago was given to Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman for “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.” Administered by the Jewish Book Council, The Rohr Prize recognizes emerging writers who examine the Jewish experience. It is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years.
The award also includes a $25,000 runner-up, who will receive the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature Choice Award. All finalists become members in the Sami Rohr Jewish Literary Institute, which conducts annual gatherings of all winners, finalists, judges and advisors.
The award, worth $100,000, is one of the largest literary prizes in the world and is given for fiction and non-fiction in alternating years. This year’s runner-up, who receives $25,000, is Ben Lerner for his novel, “Leaving the Atocha Station.” Other finalists included Shani Boianjiu for “The People of Forever Are Not Afraid,” Stuart Nadler for “The Book of Life,” and Asaf Schurr for “Motti.”
Inspired by Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence,” Segal’s book examines the upper-class Jewish community of North West London. The novel is being adapted into a TV show in the U.K. by Carnival Films, the company that produces “Downton Abbey.”
Founded in 2006, the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature “honors the contribution of contemporary writers in the exploration and transmission of Jewish values and is intended to encourage and promote outstanding writing of Jewish interest in the future.” Last year Forward opinion editor Gal Beckerman was awarded the prize for his book, “When They Come For Us We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle To Save Soviet Jewry.”
The Jewish Book Council has announced this year’s winners of its National Jewish Book Award. The award is given in 18 categories, including a lifetime achievement award, which this year went to Eric R. Kandel, who was also a 2000 Nobel Prize recipient in Physiology or Medicine.
Other winners include Franklin Foer and Marc Tracy for their anthology “Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame”; Gerald Sorin for his biography “Howard Fast: Life and Literature in the Left Lane,” and Francesca Segal for her novel, “The Innocents.” The Jewish Book of the Year Award was given to “City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York” edited by Deborah Dash Moore, while Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz was honored with the nonfiction award in Modern Jewish Thought and Experience for his edition of the Talmud, published by Koren.
The winners will be honored at a gala on March 14, at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan. Read the full list of winners and finalists here.
Earlier this week, Leslie Maitland wrote about reconnecting branches of her family separated by the Diaspora of the Nazi years. 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 would not be writing this today but for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, nor could I have written my newly published book, Crossing the Borders of Time. Indeed, but for the dedicated mission of “the Joint” to save imperiled Jews from murder in the Holocaust, I would not be here at all.
It was thanks to the Joint and cooperating agencies that my mother made an eleventh-hour escape from France in 1942 before the Nazis seized the country and sealed its ports. Like thousands of other Jewish refugees, she and her family fled to safety on ships chartered by the Joint from neutral Portugal. There were more than four hundred passengers with her on the Lipari, leaving from Marseille to Casablanca, where they transferred to a freighter, the San Thomé, for a voyage that lasted almost two months before the ship was cleared to land in Havana.
The Joint was a curious name I heard often throughout my childhood, eavesdropping on adult conversation in New York’s German-Jewish refugee community—the so-called Fourth Reich—where I was born and lived until the age of nine. (“What joint?” I remember asking, surprised to hear my very formal German grandfather speaking what sounded to me like slang.) But my understanding and appreciation of the humanitarian agency’s vital role in saving European Jews from Hitler grew exponentially as a result of my research into my mother’s story of persecution, romance in wartime, and escape.
Leslie Maitland is the author of Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed. 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:
In 1989 I accompanied my parents and brother on my mother’s first visit back to her birthplace of Freiburg im Breisgau – a charming medieval city in the Black Forest region of southwest Germany. My mother’s family had fled from their home there in August of 1938, just three months before the terrors of Kristallnacht, and her return trip, more than a half-century later, was sparked by news that the city was reaching out to Jewish former citizens. Hosting a series of annual reunions, Freiburg invited Nazi-era refugees to return for a week of meetings and events aimed at reconciliation and remembrance. At the time I was a correspondent for The New York Times and, in writing about our visit for the paper, forged what would become a lasting friendship with the city’s press secretary, Walter Preker.
About fifteen years later, Walter informed me that a German artist, Gunter Demnig, had launched a remarkable nationwide project in which he was embedding memorial markers into the sidewalks of city streets. Demnig was placing so-called Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones,” outside the homes where Jews had lived before the Holocaust so that current residents and passersby would be confronted on a daily basis with stark reminders of Hitler’s victims. Each metal-covered “stone” was engraved with the name, birth year, and fate of the former inhabitants of the locations where the stones were set, and Walter wondered whether I would be interested in arranging for Stolpersteine to be placed in front of my grandparents’ Freiburg home at Poststrasse 6. He suggested it might be necessary to obtain permission from the current owners, still the same family, my grandparents’ former neighbors, who had “purchased” it from them at a grossly undervalued price in 1938.
The Jewish Book Council announced today the recipients of the 2011 National Jewish Book Awards, which will be distributed March 14 at the Center for Jewish History in New York. The entire list is pretty lengthy, but here are some of the highlights:
“Jerusalem: The Biography,” by Simon Sebag Montefiore, picked up the top prize for Jewish Book of the Year. In November, Forward writer Jo-Ann Mort considered the book along with two other recent contributions to the subject, deeming it far and away the most important among them.
Veteran Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld took home the top prize in fiction for his latest novel, “Until the Dawn’s Light” (reviewed by Shoshana Olidort in the Forward here), while another Israeli writer, Yoram Kaniuk, was a finalist with “Life on Sandpaper,” a Forward book of the year. And for Outstanding Debut Fiction, Ned Bauman took the prize with “Boxer, Beetle,” which he discussed on The Arty Semite here.
Earlier this week, Gloria Spielman wrote about finding fellow writers on the Internet and the University of the Ghetto. Her most recent book, “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime,” is now available. Spielman‘s 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:
One of the upshots of all the reading and thinking I did for “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime,” was that I ended up doing a lot of thinking about something I’d never thought that much about before — silence and its power.
It never used to be like this. I wasn’t always on a quest for quiet. An only child, I yearned for noise, for hustle and bustle, a busy house with lots of people and their comings and goings. Who the hell needed quiet? Quiet was boring, unnerving, depressing, threatening even. A void to be filled. So, on went the TV the second I came home, the radio in the kitchen, a favourite tape, anything, as long as there was noise. Anyway, how could you do homework with no music? I had a friend at elementary school, who came from an odd family. They were odd as they had no TV. I remember thinking. What do they do for noise? It must be terrible, all that quiet. (Ironically, we are bringing up five children without a TV, but that’s a tale for another day.)
On Monday, Gloria Spielman wrote about the University of the Ghetto. Her most recent book, “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime,” is now available. Spielman‘s 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:
It all started back in March 1999. We’d just got our very first home Internet connection and I was setting off to navigate cyberspace and figure out what exactly was out there in that World Wide Web thing that everyone was going on about. These were the days of the Netscape browser and dial-up internet, which hogged the phone line and meant that you could either surf or make a phone call but not at the same time. My husband had assured me that the Internet would help my writing. I was about to discover he was right.
I’d been trying my hand at writing, but what to do with my efforts? Were they any good? How bad were they really? And how would I know? Perhaps I ought to take up flower arranging instead? I should probably have someone read my work, but who? I knew no other writers, neither pre- nor post-published. On the other hand, perhaps it was all for the best as who wants to be sitting face to face with a person as they tell you, as we say in cockney, that your work is, a load of codswallop. So, the path of least resistance looked very inviting and I tucked those manuscripts away in my filing cabinet and the dust began to settle.
Gloria Spielman‘s most recent book, “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime,” is now available. “Marcel Marceau: Master of Mime” won a silver medal in the 2011 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Spielman‘s 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’m back in London there’s a building I like to visit. If you’re an art lover and you’ve been to London. you may know the place. It’s the Whitechapel Gallery in London’s East End. But it’s not the art that I go for, it’s the building itself. Or rather its new-old addition — the former Whitechapel Library.
The original gallery building opened in London’s East End in 1901. It seemed like an odd location. The neighbourhood was dodgy. Outsiders were scared to set foot in the area. In his book “The People of the Abyss,” writer Jack London tells of the horrified reactions of people when, in 1902, he told them he was planning on living there for a while. “You don’t want to live down there!” they said, alarmed. London fared no better with the good folks at Thomas Cook and Son, an English travel company that sent intrepid travelers all over the world and refused to take him a stone’s throw away, to the East End. “You can’t do it, you know,” they told him “It is so — ahem — unusual. Consult the police.”
On Tuesday, Trina Robbins wrote about a Jewish woman who drew comics. 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:
Last month I flew to Seattle to attend the first GeekGirlCon (but not the last!). GeekGirlCon is for the Rest of Us; maybe not 99%, but definitely 52%, the women who have for so long been shut out of a male-dominated comics industry, and from all the related male-dominated industries, like computers and gaming. It’s for us geeky girls who spent our high school years as outsiders, never cheerleaders, never dating the members of the football team (often never dating at all!), our noses buried in science fiction or fantasy books or comics. All those geeky girls have grown up into enthusiastic and talented young women who are making great clothes and jewelry, creating wonderful new comics — and with not a superhero in the bunch. The energy level in the rooms was high and optimistic.
Instead of complaining about the insultingly gigantic-breasted women in the mainstream, male-oriented comics, the GeekGirls are drawing comics for themselves, which means for us. They’re telling stories that we GeekGirls (and as the oldest person at that convention, I’m still a GeekGirl) can read and identify with, and drawing them beautifully. I was on a panel devoted to Womanthology, a new women’s anthology project that raised their goal of $25,000 in production funds via Kickstarter in under 20 hours. By the end of the fundraising period a month later, they had raised $109,301, making Womanthology the most-funded comics project to date. I’m honored to be one of the contributors. I told the audience about my Lily Renee graphic novel, and one woman said to me after the panel that she was moved to tears just learning about Lily’s story.
Trina Robbins is the author of the just-released “Lily Renee, Escape Artist,” the Jewish superhero comic book “GoGirl!” and many other books. 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:
Today I’m recovering from my annual Worst Cold Ever, trying to take it easy with a book and hot chai — and I’m angry. The book I’m reading is “Suite Francaise” by Irene Nemirovsky, written in pencil in tiny cramped handwriting on the pages of a worn notebook while she was hiding from the Nazis in 1942. Nemirovsky was already a famous and successful author, but that didn’t matter to the Nazis, who eventually found her, arrested her, and murdered her in Auschwitz. Her two young daughters spent the war years in hiding, first in a convent, then moving from house to house. When they fled from the Vichy gendarmes Denise, the older daughter, took Nemirovsky’s notebook with her, not because she knew what was in it, but because it was something of her mother’s that she could keep. It was many years before the sisters could bring themselves to read the contents of the notebook, but when they did they realized that they had been carrying around their mother’s last novel, about Parisians fleeing the 1940 Nazi invasion.
“Suite Francaise” was finally published 64 years after her death.
Last week, Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote about Sukkot and social justice and asked discussed the importance of place. 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 I write this blog post, I am preparing to teach at Occupy Wall Street on Monday. Following a successful Kol Nidrei service, a Jewish contingent there has constructed a sukkah — the temporary hut in which Jews traditionally eat — and even sleep — during Sukkot.
Since I don’t use the subway during the holidays or Shabbat, I won’t get to see the sukkah in person until tomorrow. But sitting in my own sukkah these past few days, I have been thinking a lot about the paradox of protection and vulnerability that characterizes Sukkot.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the author of “Where Justice Dwells: A Hands-On Guide to Doing Social Justice in Your Jewish Community.” 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:
My initial venture into Jewish social justice came my first year of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Determined to learn something about Harlem — the neighborhood that bounded my school to the north and east — I got involved with a community organizing effort to help residents avoid eviction and ensure safe living conditions. At the time, New York City was in the process of ridding itself of thousands of buildings that had defaulted to city ownership when landlords abandoned them during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and 1980s. In the late ’90s, as housing prices in Harlem were rising, the city began selling these buildings to for-profit landlords, who often found ways to evict long-term tenants or to push them out by refusing to turn on the hot water, or to do needed repairs.
Several times a week, I would walk ten minutes east of JTS, to 123rd and Harlem, and spend time with elderly women trying to get their landlords to turn the hot water on, or families fighting eviction as rents rose. I would then walk back to school, where I would break my teeth over Aramaic grammar, and immerse myself in conversations about Shabbat and Jewish mourning practices. All of these felt important, but I struggled to understand the connection between what I saw in Harlem and what I was learning in school.
Earlier this week, Ned Beauman wrote about Oscar Panizza and Henry Ford. His debut novel, “Boxer, Beetle” (Bloomsbury), is now available. 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:
Can an anti-Semite reach correct conclusions about Jews? Here is Jeffrey Herf in his book, “Reactionary Modernism,” on the work of Werner Sombart, a leading German sociologist of the early twentieth century:
Sombart stressed four aspects of European Jewish social history that contributed to the origins of modern capitalism. First, the Jews were dispersed in different countries and thus had international contacts. Second, their existence as outsiders forced them to be more attentive to new economic opportunities and to favor economic rationalism over local custom and tradition. Third, because Jews had been excluded from full citizenship rights, they turned their attention away from politics to economics. Fourth, Jewish wealth made banking and lending possible, activities from which modern capitalism was born.
On Monday, Ned Beauman wrote about Oscar Panizza. His debut novel, “Boxer, Beetle” (Bloomsbury), is now available. 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:
Henry Ford might be the most famous American anti-Semite, but it’s not widely known that the industrialist only narrowly escaped having to answer for his vitriol in court. In 1927, the heroic Jewish lawyer Aaaron Sapiro sued Ford for remarks that Ford had made about Sapiro in his book “The International Jew” (later popular among the Nazi Party). Unfortunately, the libel case ended in a mistrial and had been pretty precarious from start to finish. As Time magazine reported: “During the life of the Sapiro-Ford trial the following events were chronicled: Henry Ford was badly battered in an automobile accident. Stuart Hanley, lawyer for Mr. Ford, suffered a back strain. Two of Aaron Sapiro’s children came down with scarlet fever. Milton Sapiro (brother) splintered a wrist in another automobile crash. Senator James A. Reed of Missouri, chief counsel for Mr. Ford, went to the Henry Ford hospital with an acute attack of gastrointestinal trouble. Superstitious observers whispered that the trial was hoodooed.”
Ned Beauman is the author of “Boxer, Beetle.” It was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliott Prize upon its initial UK release last year, and has recently been praised by the New York Times as “funny, raw and stylish.” 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:
In 1893 the German writer Oscar Panizza published a story called “The Operated Jew,” a synopsis of which reads like a racially charged David Cronenberg film: A young Jewish doctor submits to a serious of painful surgical procedures to conceal his heritage, culminating with a blood transfusion from pure Ayran virgins, but just before his wedding to a blonde German woman, the operations lose their hold and he melts into a puddle on the floor. That same decade, the Zionist Theodor Herzl began using the term “anti-Semite of Jewish origin,” which would soon be simplified to ‘self-hating Jew.’
These days you don’t very often hear ‘self-hating Jew’ from level-headed people, but to a novelist, a self-hating anything is inherently juicy material, and “The Operated Jew,” if it had been written by a Jewish author, would probably now be a major text in Jewish Studies.
Earlier this week, Stuart Nadler blogged for the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning‘s Author Blog about casting off one’s sins and the stories that didn’t make it. 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:
They were small, felt, ringed in blue. We wore them to meals, to all of them, and of course, to services on Fridays and Saturdays. You were given two at the start. If you lost them, they were a few dollars to replace. Of course, they were yarmulkes, even though we never called them that, choosing, instead, to call them beanies. To have called them yarmulkes, I suppose, would have been to place them in a more strict religious context, that, as boys, we may have shirked from. Or found uncool. It’s hard to remember now. This was my summer camp near Cape Cod, a tiny, wooded outpost flanked by a fresh water lake, a dozen creaky, wooden bunks.
Yesterday, Stuart Nadler wrote about casting off one’s sins. 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:
At a certain point in the process, I had to do the cutting. Not the small cutting, the excising of some misplaced lines, the usual reshuffling that revision turns into at the end, everything somehow feeling more surgical than therapeutic. But I had to really cut. To kill some stories. To take them out, shelve them, end them. This is what I did, in the most unsentimental of ways — stories that I’d suffered over for months at a time, pulled from the manuscript, put into the drawer. There were 14 stories. Then there were 10. For a few weeks there were nine. Now the book exists in its final form, and there are seven stories, all handsomely put together and bound and out there for anyone to read. But what about the others, the stories that didn’t make it?
Stuart Nadler’s first book, “The Book of Life,” is now available. 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:
For me, the year has always begun in September. I grew up near Boston, and part of this feeling, surely, is that the season changes then, that summer ends and school begins, that in the stores suddenly there are reminders of what’s to come: Halloween masks, potted burgundy chrysanthemums, pumpkins for sale in bins at the farm stands. Of course, September, in most cases, marks the beginning of the High Holidays. It falls late this year, the bulk of the Days of Awe spilling over into October. As I write this, we’re half a month away, and in New England, there is still the residual film of summer hanging over everything. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are, perhaps, the most benevolent of all our holidays, a time devoted, in part, to an introspective critique of our sins and misgivings, our failings, the grievances we carry. I took the title of my collection of short stories, “The Book of Life,” from the part of the High Holiday liturgy which has been my favorite since I was young: “On Rosh Hashanah It is Written, On Yom Kippur It is Sealed.” The stories in my book are about family — about the enduring struggle between father’s and their sons, about the difficulties between brothers. But in a large part, the stories are about the sins and errors we commit against those we love.