From Seattle to Hebron: The Story of an Amazing Life

Telling the life story of Rabbi Dov Cohen, To Rise Above begins in Seattle, WA in the early 1900’s and via train and ship takes readers to pre-state Palestine. As a young boy Dov lived in the idyllic (and rare) circumstances of a wealthy Orthodox Jewish family in Seattle. Fully dedicated to observance of Jewish law, the family was also able to take part fully in local life due to their financial success and broadmindedness.

But all was not well in paradise. Dov’s brother went off to NY to study in yeshiva and came back unmotivated and uninterested in continuing his Torah education. His observance level was not one of a young man excited about being an Orthodox Jew. Dov’s mother realized that the US offered nothing like the Torah education she wished for her sons. She then took the dramatic step of traveling with 13 year old Dov across the world to seek out a place in Palestine that would provide the education she wanted for Dov.

And this is when the journey through the history and Jewish life of pre-state Israel begins. It wasn’t easy to find a yeshiva for Dov. After false starts in Tel Aviv, Dov ends up learning in the Jewish holy city of Hevron (Hebron) at the Slabodka Yeshiva. Dov’s mother returns to the US and they meet again only after 10 years.

The Slabodka Yeshiva, Hevron 1920’s

Slabodka was a flagship of the mussar movement dedicated to living at the highest standards of Jewish ethical behavior. It is fascinating to read about the experiences of a young American Jew living within the Jewish community of Hevron and pre-independence Israel of the 1920’s. Daily life is described showing the intensity of the yeshiva students and their everyday idealism as well as the difficulty of being a teenager so far from his family. The author doesn’t whitewash over various tensions which exist within the yeshiva. Readers will be hardpressed to find other books in English which offer such detailed insight into this flourishing Jewish community.

Images from the Hevron Massacre, 1929

In painful detail, Dov describes the experiences of living through the Hevron massacre of 1929.  The violent rioting by Arabs and murder of over 60 Jews could easily have been stopped by British police on the scene. Dov describes the incredible scenes of suffering as the British authorities do nothing to stop the Arab pogrom. This is a must read for anyone interested in Hevron and the events of 1929.

Dov relocates with his yeshiva (post-riot referred to as the Hevron Yeshiva) to Jerusalem in the wake of the riots. The dislocation and confusion Dov experiences would today be quickly labeled as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The book eventually reaches 1948 and Israeli independence.  Dov serves as the first Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force which is fascinating because although he was part of the Haredi community, he saw his work as a mission to ensure that the new institutions of the nascent Jewish state were set up taking into account Jewish tradition to whatever extent possible.

We follow Dov Cohen through the development of Israel and his life. The end of the book contains a fascinating copy of notes that he kept on a daily basis documenting his efforts at self-improvement proving that he was truly a student of Slabodka who tried to live according to the ideals of mussar until the end of his life.

This book is a must-read for those interested in the history of the Jewish community of Hevron and pre-independence Israel as well as those stirred by mussar.


Shalem College in Jerusalem. Good for Students. Good for Books.

Shalem college logoIt is always exciting to read about the Shalem College (in articles such as this one in The Weekly Standard).  I was brought on as the head of media relations at the Shalem Center (the precursor to the college) in the 90’s as it came onto the educational and intellectual scene. The dream was to start a university dedicated to the highest standards of intellectual inquiry while providing a real liberal arts education.  The atmosphere was super dynamic and job descriptions changed or expanded as needed. I was eventually put in charge of setting up the recruitment of students for the new Shalem Fellowship program. Many of the fellows are now top academics and journalists in Israel  today.  Shalem gave me my start in book publicity when I worked with an amazing Tel Aviv book publicist on the Hebrew translation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Disobedience, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and other classics published by Shalem. The next mission was setting up distribution for Shalem books in Israel as well as growing the subscriber base to the Shalem journal (Azure in English and Tchelet in Hebrew).  At one point I was told “go to NY and figure out how to distribute our journal so we don’t have to give it out for free”.

Shalem college

The Shalem College. Jerusalem, Israel

The rest is history as I learned all about the book industry in the US and Israel and have never looked back.  The dream of the Shalem College has come to fruition and articles like the one mentioned above are evidence of how successful it already is.  Shalem has done much to bring quality books to Hebrew readers and by setting up a liberal arts, “great books” college, it ensures these books are actually being read.

People Judge a Book by its Cover. So Get it Right.

Whether I’m wearing my hat as a book shepherd or as publicist, I spend a lot of time talking to authors about the covers for their book. The importance of a book cover can’t be overestimated. Covers really are important. You know….the whole “judging a book by its cover”? It is true.

So while at one time I sometimes tried to save authors money by working with great graphics people with no experience in book cover design, I do not do this anymore. Why? Because someone who has designed numerous book covers has usually reached a tipping point where they simply “get it”. They know what will work and they don’t need direction. Sure we give plenty of feedback when needed but that is fundamentally different than practically having to explain everything I know about covers, sending examples of covers and needing to be overly involved in the process. They were great designers (otherwise I wouldn’t have hired them) but they were not familiar with creating book covers. Their fee may have been lower but when taking into account the time needed from our side, it wasn’t usually worth it.



When I read “How We Tried to Design Our Own Book Cover” I was excited. This article is by Jake Knapp, a designer who wrote a forthcoming business book called Sprint (which sounds fascinating, by the way). One of Jake’s opening lines is something I am likely to share often: “Last June, with a near-complete draft of our book in hand, we began thinking about the cover design. We’re a team of designers, so how hard could it be? (Spoiler alert: Turns out it is very, very hard.)”  I had to smile as I read this story of book cover design gone wrong (and then right). I felt vindicated.

Jake – thanks for your honesty! I hope that sharing your experience will save authors a lot of time, money and frustration. Now I am waiting for an article about how important a good editor is to a book!


Book Giveaway! The Jewish Fact Finder. Win a copy of this amazing resource.



Fact finder cover

I’m excited to run my first book giveaway.  Actually it isn’t my first. I have probably run hundreds of book giveaways on various websites, blogs and social media platforms, but I have not used my own site. So let’s get started……

Newly revised and updated, the Jewish Fact Finder by Yaffa Ganz is a classic which has been a treasure-house of basic Jewish information for decades. It contains information on everything Jewish that one might need. Feldheim describes the book has having everything “from Torah to Talmud to Temple; from prophets to plagues to prayers; seasons and cities; measurements and mountains; and lots more, designed to be available right at your fingertips”.

It’s an essential quick-reference guide and will be useful for students, young and old, and for their parents and teachers as well. To describe it in 2016 terms, it is like having Google available at all times (including when you can’t access the internet).

Click below and enter to win!  The book will be shipped for the winner to USA addresses only (sorry).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Score! A Jerusalem Bookstore. A Jewel.


A modest, somewhat misleading storefront


I know Jerusalem very well. When I see a store I can recall what was there before that store and the one before that. So discovering a great bookstore is rare. Almost a holiday. While I have been to The Book Gallery in Jerusalem before, I’d never entered far enough to realize that room after room of used books awaited me. I am unsure how this treasure eluded me but I don’t want to cry over book experiences missed when the future looks so bright.


Upon entering, there is an understated invitation to visit downstairs


Wow. What a store. As one of the employees told me “We are like an iceberg. You only see the top but underneath there is so much to be seen.” True. Outside there are some tables and shelves with books selling at about $2.50 US. And upon entering, a modestly sized book store greets visitors (or so it seems). A quick look around and one could just be on their way. But take the steps downstairs and an underground expanse of books awaits.

Hebrew, English, French, Yiddish….it is all there. Every genre. History. Fiction. Zoology. Records. Posters. And the staff? When asked if they have a somewhat obscure title they answered almost as one “We don’t have that now”. OK. A bookstore with a staff that actually…well…knows books! Score.

Moshe Bar, owner of the store, sat dusting and repairing books while explaining that their website  offers tens of thousand of titles with delivery world wide. But if you are in Jerusalem, visit them at Schatz 6.

Prices were very reasonable for used books in good condition. And the music was great. More pics below. Visit. It is better than the pictures.



The background music could have been playing from these records



Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Best Reads for the High Holiday Season?


Photo: Karen Horton

Photo: Karen Horton

Books are dead? Not this year. I am always pleased to see an article like this one which appears in Jewish Action Magazine in advance of the High Holidays this year. A number of Jewish “movers & shakers” were asked what they read to prepare for this important season.  People like Allison Josephs, the innovative founder of Jew in the City, well known writer and public commentator Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and other respected and interesting Jewish thinkers and educators shared their choice books for holiday inspiration and growth. Their selections will be helpful to many but either way this sort of article is an important vote of confidence and reminder of just how relevant and important books are.

Social Media is Hand-selling!



Today, I was speaking to a web guy discussing how to get a blog up onto the site of a new and growing Jewish publisher.  We were talking about how helpful a blog is for sharing material with people.  The web guy described how he has been setting up more stores on Facebook lately.  I asked if people actually shop that way and he said “Probably not too much. But it puts the images in front of people, they start thinking about what we are selling and then down the line they often do buy.”  I knew the answer before I asked but, I still always ask.  As he spoke about how social media is often just getting people aware and interested in something for a later purchase, I had a “eureka” moment and I thought “social media is hand-selling”. I’d never connected the two so clearly.

A little explanation is in order. When I started working in the publishing world, a big part of how we promoted books was by getting the staff of bookstores knowledgeable and excited about our books. We sent them covers and then when there were advance reader copies ready, we sent those. And finally, when the book was published, we often sent them copies of those as well. We even visited the stores and met the people (I know, hard to believe, no email, no online chat but a real live encounter with another book person!) We schmoozed about the book, we told them about the plot, the author, who might read it and why we loved it. And then we hoped they’d read the book and feel the same as we did because if so, they’d share it with their customers. And this led to book sales. It still does.  It was (and still is) a process that sells books. And social media today is a new version of  hand-selling.

We share book reviews on social media. We quote them. Others share them. Readers talk about books they read. Others react. And so on. And all of this leads to books being sold and read. And that is a good thing.

Holocaust Memorial Day. Books and Memory. Which Book Impacted You the Most?

War Against the Jews cover

Holocaust Memorial Day or “Yom Hashoah” will be commemorated in Israel and much of the Jewish world beginning Sunday evening, April 27, a siren will pierce the air across Israel for a few moments of silence, prayers will be recited, ceremonies will be held. As the years go on and the generation of survivors leave us, the commemoration is less raw but maybe even more important.

I knew about the Holocaust from a very young age. I was aware that my family had lost 119 members to the Nazis (on my Mother’s side) and survivors were people one could meet regularly. There was always someone to hear stories from – a friend’s parent, or grandparent, a guest speaker at school.

Despite my familiarity with so much of the Holocaust, it was a book which changed my perspective. Reading The War Against the Jews by Lucy Dawidowicz while in college was the point where I was hit with how unbelievably horrible the Holocaust was (as much as I could really understand that 40 years later).  Dawidowicz’s  descriptions of mass murder, torture and destruction left me speechless and often in total despair or filled with fierce, hot anger.  I recall being almost unable to contain the knowledge and pain. Her book impacted me greatly.  I sometimes found it almost impossible to read but I was driven to finish it. I think it is a “must read” book about the Holocaust.

There are many ways to confront the Holocaust: hearing from survivors, films and of course, the popular visits to Eastern Europe.  Books continue to play an important role in documenting and remembering the holocaust. Over the past few years I have worked on the publicity of a number of Holocaust memoirs which seems to be part of a rush to get memories documented before it is too late. Pointing out one book over another feels unfair but I think it is better to mention a few titles rather than none at all. One of the strongest books I have read in years was A World after This by Lola Liebler. The author tells of the unraveling of her middle class life under the boots of the Nazis while honestly sharing her doubts and personal flaws as she experienced them. The recent Sori’s Story was also valuable as it showed how a normal life could be turned upside down overnight for an average Jewish child and her family. I am currently honored to be working on the new Running from Giants which is a memoir  about an 8 year old boy’s survival of the war – written by his granddaughter. Filled with illustrations and sharp prose, it is a worthy new addition to the literature.

What book about the Holocaust has impacted you the most?


Meet Orly Ziv Creator of Cook in Israel – Our First Author Interview.

Authors are fascinating and important people. I also admit that as a publicist, I am biased. However, it is important to remember these are the people who actually have dreamed of a book and published it. I always say “Mazel Tov” to an author when they contact me. I explain that just getting the book out is worthy of being acknowledged. If authors didn’t stick to it and actually publish their books, what would the world be like? It is not a pretty thought.

I work with authors every day. They are often unsung heroes, many times well known. Some are confident of success, others quite doubtful. But they all share the success of publishing their books. Their experiences are interesting and often quite helpful to others. With that in mind I am going to offer occasional interviews here with published authors. I will usually focus on people who are or have been clients. I am confident that their reflections and experiences will be of interest to many and might just help the person writing a book right now or an author wondering how to make their book a success.

Cook in Israel

For our initial interview I am excited to introduce Orly Ziv who is a culinary tour guide from Tel Aviv, Israel. A lifelong food lover, Orly worked for many years as a clinical nutritionist before launching her company Cook in Israel in 2009 where she offers culinary tours around Israel and intimate cooking classes in her home. Orly’s first book Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration has received wonderful reviews and has been selling well in the US and Israel. A quick look at the reader reviews on Amazon and the excitement of readers is obvious. I have had the honor of being the publicist for Cook in Israel and it has been a terrific process (plus the preserved lemons recipe is amazing!).

 Orly, what made you decide to write a cookbook?

I’ve been asked several times by my guests about a cookbook of my own. I was encouraged to do it by one of my guests who is a chef from California who told me “just do it” so I did! I also wanted to leave some of my recipes as a legacy to my children.

What vision did you have in mind when you set out to write the book? Did the finished book match that?  How long did it take?

I had in mind to bring out the inspiration of the Israeli melting pot through cultures and flavors and of course my personal home cooking based on my family’s preference and my personal taste. I included all the recipes I teach in my classes that are successful and added recipes for Jewish holidays. I wanted to emphasize daily home cooking  and easy to make recipes with a short list of ingredients and very simple, easy to follow instructions. My vision is to use ingredients as everywhere else but the spices and the cooking techniques we use are different and this what makes it Israeli. My vision was also to bring the flavors of Israel to the world and to introduce Israel to more people through our food, culture and flavors.

The finished book matches exactly what I had in mind. It took 6 month to work on the book.

 What surprised you while writing the book? Is there anything you would do differently?

What surprised me is how easy it can be when you follow your vision.

 What advice do you have for someone who would like to publish a cookbook?

Make sure to have a personal touch in your book and include  added value for the readers. My added value is the simplicity of preparing the recipes and the inspiration of the flavors. For example, including a recipe for a typical Israeli salad with the addition of avocado and pomegranate seeds is an unusual combination which makes for a really nice difference.

 Now that your book is published, how have you found the experience? What is it like to see your book in stores? On Amazon?

It is exciting to see my cookbook in the stores and also to know that the book now has a life of its own. Marketing and bringing the book to the knowledge the readers is the hard work.

 What have been some of the most effective methods for promoting your book?

Reviews, Facebook and email marketing.

What are 3 food tips you can offer people for Passover?

If you like almonds there are delicious cakes you can make based on almond meal.

Look for flourless cakes instead of trying to substitute the flour in regular cakes.

I always prefer bake instead of frying.

 Can you please share a recipe  which you didn’t include in your book?

Sure! Chocolate and Almonds Cake great for Pesach (Passover). Recipe below.


A Personal Recipe from Orly Ziv

Chocolate and Almond Cake - Kosher for Passover. Great year round.

Chocolate and Almond Cake – Kosher for Passover. Great year round.

Chocolate & Almonds Cake

Kosher for Passover



200 gr. chocolate chopped

200 gr. butter

200 gr. ground almonds

1 cup sugar

5 eggs separated






  1. Heat the oven to 1800C (3500F).
  2. Melt the chocolate with the butter.
  3. Mix gently into the melted chocolate the yolks and the almonds.
  4. Beat the whites with the sugar until a firm foam is created.
  5. Fold gently the beaten whites into the chocolate almonds mixture.
  6. Bake about 30 min until a toothpick inserted in the center comes up clean.


National Jewish Book Awards for 2013 Announced



It is a big day for the Jewish publishing world today as The Jewish Book Council announces the winners of the 2013 National Jewish Book Awards.  Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein Halevi has won Jewish Book of the Year.  It is worth looking at the list of all the winners. There are some surprises (in my opinion) and a very solid list of great books that have received great reviews over the past year.