Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lost and Found

What was I expecting when I attended an event advertised as "Etgar Keret and Maira Kalman -- artist, author, and illustrator at The New Yorker will share with Professor Evan Fallenberg stories of their journey through Israel in the footsteps of Mark Twain in an endless search for places, people, and things with music by Jane Bordeaux?" I was hoping for a discussion of art and literature and some insight into the creative process.  I got that and more.

I am a HUGE fan of Kalman's work, both in children's books and in The New Yorker.  Her style of whimsy with a certain intelligence makes me laugh and think at the same time. Keret is a master storyteller, whose work has been translated into 17 languages. Kalman was born in Israel and moved to the United States when she was four. Keret is a child of Polish Holocaust survivors and has lived in Israel all his life. They have collaborated with each other and with other authors and artists to creative an impressive mix of interesting and multi-faceted projects. Kalman is in Israel as the artist in residence at Mishkenot Sha’ananim as part of the Rothschild Foundation’s Marie Residency program, a tribute to the life of Italian artist and glass sculptor Marie Brandolini, who died in 2013 at age 51.The program – in the spirit of Brandolini’s love and appreciation for literature – brings accomplished writers to both Venice and Jerusalem, two special cities in the deceased artist’s life.

Keret and Kalman talked about current and future projects that include museum exhibitions, operas and movies.  As far as Twain's Innocents Abroad, the pair brought their own irreverence as they talked about their fascination with minuscule and trivial things that created vivid moments including buying two envelopes; going to the Arava, looking through a telescope and seeing Saturn's rings and moons; and visiting a bookstore that specializes in Romanian books. Right now Kalman is working on a recipe book of cakes, so that is a big topic of discussion.

For his part, Fallenberg asked questions about creativity, celebrity and artistic obsession. I loved that coffee is a part of Kalman's artistic rituals, and that Keret likes his fame and often finds it useful. As far as obsession, Keret seems to write a lot of stories about the father-son relationship, and Kalman admits to being obsessed with time.

Keret spoke a lot about his older sister and brother, to whom he introduced
Kalman. At the end of the program, I was able to ask him personally what I've been dying to know: how did he get the name "Etgar," which means "challenge" in Hebrew, and did his siblings have equally unique names? No, his brother is named Nimrod, and Etgar got his name because his mother had an emergency C-section in her sixth month of pregnancy with him, and the situation was very precarious for a while. He beat his first challenge (probably his biggest), and has been taking on challenges since then.

The surprise of the evening was Jane Bordeaux, which is a trio of musicians: Doron Talmon - vocals and percussion; Amir Zeevi - guitar and vocals; and Mati Gilad - double bass and vocals. I enjoyed their folksy sound and the clever lyrics.  In what translates to "How is it possible not to:"

Like a stubborn fisherman with a mesh made of holes In a small wooden boat swinging in turbulent waters You did not give up and you did not give up and my heart started beating again Like an oyster on sand washed ashore with no choice Here came a big wave sweeping her back I had already given up and I almost gave up and my heart pounded again How can you not fall in love with you How can you not fall in love How everyone in the world is not in love with you either
How can you not fall in love 

Even when I tried to refuse to be determined How could I have remained indifferent to you? When you looked at me like I was ice cream and you spoon And when you especially told me today, you're beautiful How can you not fall in love with you How can you not fall in love Just please, it was already painful Try not to break my heart How can you not fall in love with you How can you not fall in love How everyone in the world is not in love with you either How can you not fall in love

Besides my evening at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, which is right near the windmill, I made a stop at a historic house. My colleagues enjoyed The Language of Angels (Charlesbridge, 2017); me not so much, but that is a different discussion. The book tells the story of the modernization of the Hebrew language, a massive project undertaken by Eliezer ben Yehuda. The family lived at 11 Ethiopia Street, across from the Ethiopian Church. The street is extremely narrow, but the houses are magnificent. The neighborhood borders on the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Geula and Meah She'arim, but this block is a rather quiet corner of the world, with all the residences (except ben Yehuda's house) situated behind heavy metal security gates. It appears that no one is living in the house, which could definitely use a little renovation.

And what is a trip to Jerusalem without seeing one of the Real Cats of Israel, this one just rolling with the punches:

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 15, 2017

May Jewish Book Carnival

Welcome to the May 2017 Jewish Book Carnival -- a selection of book reviews; interviews with authors, publishers, librarians and others about Jewish books; and essays about Jewish books and literature. 

The purposes of the Jewish Book Carnival are to build community among bloggers who feature Jewish books in their posts and to promote Jewish reading, and fields supporting this reading such as publishing and library services.

This month's selections:

At The Book of Life, Heidi Rabinowitz interviews Suzanne Nelson about her teen novel Serendipity’s FootstepsBecome a patron of The Book of Life for as little as $1/month and Suzanne will send you an autographed copy of Serendipity’s Footsteps!

Jill at Rhapsody in Books reviews I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark by Debbie Levy.  This book for children explains how Ruth's early experience of prejudice against Jews, women, and other groups inspired her later dedication to equal rights for everyone. Originally posted for Women's History Month (March), this 2017 Sydney Taylor Book Award Winner for Younger Readers is a great read any time of the year.

At AJL's People of the Book blog, Kathleen Bloomfield, the president of the School, Synagogue and Center Division of the Association of Jewish Libraries addresses the current violence and hate with "literary suggestions for children that affirm the values of kindness and acceptance of others."

At Israel Blogger, Batya Medad is very happy that Rabbi Emanuel Feldman has republished his lovely and honest memoir, The 28th of Iyar, his day by day journal written during the weeks leading up to the Six Days War and the war itself. Feldman and his family had been winding down their sabbatical year in Israel when the Arab countries began threatening to annihilate the State of Israel...

On the Fig Tree Books Blog, a series of posts spotlighting past winners of the Edward Lewis Wallant Award continues with a look at Allegra Goodman's Kaaterskill Falls, which took the prize for 1999.

I attended the Jerusalem Women Writers' Conference (JWWS) on May 9th.  You can read about the great speakers and sessions at Life Is Like a Library.

Over on the Jewish Book Review author Deborah Kalb shares her big secret with Rivka Levy (and you), and explains why she stopped writing for adults and started writing fiction for children instead.

On My Machberet, Erika Dreifus reports on the celebration for this year's finalists for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (and looks back on the very first such event, ten years ago).

Deborah Kalb interviews a wide variety of authors on her blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. Here's a recent interview she did with Peter Szabo about his new book, Finding Maria, which looks at his family's history and his relationship with his grandmother.

Penguin Random House's Newsletter "Signature: Making Well-Read Sense of the World" covers all aspects of reading and literature, but I was drawn to two recent posts:

 from author David Samuel Levinson -- "5 Novels That Illuminate the Problems and Dangers of Anti-Semitism"

and "No Excuse for Ignorance: Books to Understand the Holocaust" by Lorraine Berry. 

Thank you to all our contributors.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

2017 JWWS

Yes, it's that time of the year again. The jacarandas are in bloom in my neighborhood;

it's almost Lag B'Omer,

and I had an uplifting and informative day at the Jerusalem Women Writers' Seminar (JWWS). So what words of wisdom and inspiration were bestowed by the speakers?

Rebbetzin Sara Meisels (the Bobover Rebbetzin) opened the day with a dvar Torah and reminded the packed hall that writers inspire and influence their readers. That is their gift from Hashem. If you are given that gift, you must use it to the benefit of Klal Yisrael (the Jewish community).

Jonathan Rosenblum is a regular columnist for many Jewish publications. As the lone male speaker, he felt a little pressure, but he spoke about the ability of writers to connect to others. He reminded the group to develop a thick skin, to seek constructive criticism, and not to be obsessed with the money aspect of the craft.

Esther Heller, editorial director of Menucha Publishers, spoke about "Writing Great Leads." There are many types of leads -- narrative, questions, summary, etc., and seminar participants were able to practice writing them after a mock press conference.

Next were the Shapiros:
Sarah Shapiro spoke about "The Role of Jealousy in a Writer's Life," while Debbie Shapiro discussed "Keeping Your Privacy When Your Personal Life Is Public." After some amusing anecdotes and family stories, she talked about writing about her challenges with Parkinson's Disease. While she did not want to be defined by the disease, she concluded that it pays to talk about something personal sometimes. She has received phone calls of support and empathy; has helped people to understand what people with the disease go through, and started an organization, Tikvah for Parkinson, that provides knowledge, support and advocacy.

Avigail Sharer, aka Leah Gebber, spoke about "Tales as Old as Time." Looking at fairy tales, there are prevalent themes and prototypes that can be guides for writing fiction. So don't think of Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella and Snow White as children's stories. Think of them as stories about "Overcoming the Monster," an underdog or someone who goes from rags to riches, and a tale of rebirth, respectively.

After a very appetizing lunch, back again, those twins that epitomize "twinness:"

Miriam Zakon and Emmy Leah Zitter.

Miriam has been writing a weekly serial, Freefall, in Mishpacha Magazine. It takes place between 1939 and 1945 and is about World War II, but not the Holocaust. Emmy Leah, a professor of literature, provided a literary analysis of Miriam's work to help attendees improve their own writing.  

In a session entitled "Serial Murder," the sisters' lively banter covered the elements of a good story:
  • Plot
  • Conflict
  • Characterization
  • Symbols
  • Metaphor.
Quote of the day: "Getting off topic that's on topic, we need good (well-written) Jewish books. They don't end with the wedding and "they lived happily ever after;" they continue through the marriage and life with all it joys and sorrows."

In the afternoon, two sets of workshops were offered. I attended Tzippora Price's "Writing with Passion and Purpose." Tzippora read two selections about childhood memories and then asked the group to write with both the voice of innocence and the voice of experience -- a memory from childhood with all the sensory details and looking back on it as an adult. Then we had to answer two questions: what is so special about this memory now? and what does it mean now that I couldn't have known then? Those brave enough to share wrote about childhood bullying and experiencing words that hurt.

Malka Schapps, aka Rachel Pomerantz, provided exercises in "Telling the Truth in Fiction." The task was to take a real interaction or event and turn it into fiction. Some stories need a little embellishing to entice readers, while other stories, even though true, are so crazy that no one would believe them.

I am the lucky winner of Rabbi Benjamin Yudin's new book, Gateways to Greatness (Mosaica Press, 2017). In it, Rabbi Yudin shares "gateways -- ideas, methods, teachings, and practical wisdom -- to become happier, better and more connected people." A fan of his weekly dvar Torah on Jewish radio, I can almost hear Rabbi Yudin's voice as I "have the privilege of reading about unlocking one's potential. 

Thanks to Stephanie Weiss for the ride home via "the beautiful way," aka the back way (not on Highway 1).

Thank you to Tamar Ansh and Esther Heller for organizing another great conference.

and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Counting the Omer

You shall count seven weeks for yourselves; from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. - Deuteronomy 16:9

These seven weeks fall between Passover and Shavuot, so that after celebrating freedom, we prepare to receive the Torah by working on refining character traits and focusing on developing our own potential and having more meaningful relationships with God and with our fellow man.  

What to read during this season?

Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt"l, founder of Aish HaTorah, taught a course based on the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, Chapter 6, Verse 6: "Torah is acquired by means of forty-eight qualities." Allowing one day for review, a quality, such as humility, joy or sharing the burden, can be reviewed each day. Rabbi Weinberg's course material has been adapted and updated by Rabbis Nechemia Coopersmith and Shraga Simmons. The short chapters discuss the "ways." At the end of each chapter is a section entitled "Applied Wisdom," which suggestions for thought and action.  Easy to read and insightful this Shaar Press (2017) book is particularly appropriate for the Omer, but worthwhile all year long.

During the seven weeks of counting, we focus on the seven basic emotions that make up the spectrum of human experience: 
Chesed - Lovingkindness
Gevurah - Justice and Discipline
Tiferet - Harmony, Beauty in Balance
Netzach - Endurance
Hod - Humility
Yesod - Bonding
Malchut - Kingship.

Two books that explore these are Simon Jacobson's A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer: Forty-Nine Steps to Personal Refinement According to the Jewish Tradition and Rabbi Yaacov Haber's Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer. While Rabbi Jacobson focuses on the individual, Rabbi Haber (with Rabbi David Sedley) looks at ways to develop yourself, your relationship with God, and your relationship with your fellow man. These books also delve further into the Kabbalistic aspects of Sefirat HaOmer.

Looking for something a little more creative? Through the Gates: A Practice for Counting the Omer by Susan Windle compiled her thoughts and poems and her experience in a "Counting Group." One of my favorite selections is about Tiferet:

Tiferet is the wide-angle lens of the heart. Tiferet makes music, integrates a diversity of voices into one song beautiful and true. In Tiferet, we hold the truth with reverence, accepting what is so with grace. Tiferet balances Chesed and Gevurah -- holding in equal measure the flow of loving-kindness and the ability to set appropriate boundaries. Tiferet offers a wide open "yes" to love and delight and firm, assured "no" to self-indulgence.

And for something completely out of the box, try Iyanla Vanzant's One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth. At first it seems a little sacrilegious to include this with books by venerated rabbis. But this Yoruba Princess and Oprah favorite has some sage wisdom that aligns with the themes of the Omer:

Remain open. There is something bigger than you know going on here.

Experience taught me that to believe in God is to recognize and acknowledge God's divine presence within yourself.

Your are not being tested! You are being fortified!

For those more comfortable on the Internet, there are loads of resources, including the ever-popular Homer (Simpson) Omer website with a printable calendar

Yesh Shem has a wealth of information and different Omer practices, from the traditional blessing and count to special Psalms and ways of studying Jewish text. The site is a challenge to navigate, but worth the extra effort if you are looking for more esoteric material.

We miss you Felix!

Meaningful reading!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Knit One, Read Two

Winter is a great time for knitting. With the long evenings and the cold weather, it's wonderful to sit and work on a project -- one like a blanket or shawl that drapes over you and keeps you warm while you craft. Some may find the literary reference to Madame Defarge knitting during the French Revolution in A Tale of Two Cities apropos for these turbulent times, but I prefer to enjoy the relaxing and meditative quality of knitting. While curled up in the library on "a dark and stormy night," several books came to mind:

Hereville by Barry Deutsch (Abrams, 2010) features Mirka, a "troll-fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl," whose stepmother Fruma argues that she must learn the "womanly art" of knitting. While Mirka discounts the value of these skills, they come in handy when she actually encounters the troll -- both the knitting and Fruma's argumentative style. Mirka has been a huge inspiration for me in life as well as in knitting (see Being Mirka  and Mussar from Mirka for all the details). 

A Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016) is a Sydney Taylor Honor Book for Younger Readers. Much like Mirka, Sophia is not a great knitter, but the love she knits into the hat she makes for her neighbor compensates for the dropped stitches. The book emphasizes that showing concern for others is a mitzvah. Edwards is quite an accomplished knitter, and her Knitter's Home Companion (Melanie Fallick Books, 2011) includes stories patterns and recipes.

A 2015 Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Young Readers, The Mitten String by Jennifer Rosner and illustrated by Kristina Swarner (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2014) is a folktale about so many things: kindness, resourcefulness and knitting. Ruthie knits mittens. She meets a deaf woman who knows when her baby awakes by the string attached to each one's wrist, and soon Ruthie is knitting mittens with strings.

Leave Me Alone! by Vera Brosgol (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) is a Caldecott Honor Book. As winter approaches, an old woman with a large family "had some very important knitting to do." But with a house full of children, it isn't getting done. As she tries to find a quiet place to knit, the title phrase is repeated until she finds the perfect spot. There is no Jewish content, but this is a fun one to include for story time.

Ned the Knitting Pirate by Diana Murray and illustrated by Leslie Lammle (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) is about a pirate whose hobby may not be popular with his peers, but who eventually saves the day with his handiwork when a sea monster threatens the ship. No overt Jewish content, but an argument could be made about Jewish values in terms of respecting others, using your strengths, and being true to yourself.

Knitting and Tikkun Olam

Betsy Greer's Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social and Political Change Stitch by Stitch (Roost Books, 2008) "explores the ways we can use knitting to slow down in a fast-paced culture, while using the craft to benefit charities in our communities, to advocate for worthwhile causes, and to support individuals and communities across the globe." Another book in the same vein, Knitting for Peace: Making the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time by Betty Christiansen (Abrams, 2006) traces "charity knitting" back to Martha Washington and describes several community projects. 

For a Jewish angle on these type of projects, refer to 

The Women's League for Conservative Judaism's Creative Judaic Arts Patterns

Hats for Israeli Soldiers

Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Charity Knitting

TikkunKnits - an intriguing title for a website, but no posts since 2009.  An interesting intersection of social justice and knitting projects.

On the Internet

While doing some background research, I came across this useful sites:

1000+ Knitting Quotes on Pinterest includes such great thoughts as

In the rhythm of the needles, there is music for the soul.

It's not a hobby; it's a post-apocalyptic skill.

Keep calm and cast on.

Jewish Knitting: in an article on Kveller, the author reminisces about the sweaters her grandmother knit for her and her siblings, and starts knitting herself, thinking about the different customs and the culture she has taken in by osmosis.

Love holiday sweaters? Then read about Sam Barsky, "The Man Who Made Those Viral Sweaters Has One for Every Jewish Holiday" (Forward, January 10, 2017) who also knit sweaters depicting the Kotel and Ein Gedi after an inspirational trip to Israel.

As I made my way to one of my favorite knitting stores (under City Center in Jerusalem), I met some of the Real Cats of Israel:

Happy Reading!