Israel

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”.

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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.

Instead of Banning a Book, Here’s What Naftali Bennett Should Have Done

As you may know by now, the Israeli Education ministry has “disqualified” the book “Gader Haya” (in English  “Borderlife”) by Dorit Rabinyan because it describes a romantic relationship between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian man. I am sure the book’s publicist is ecstatic as every media outlet is talking about the book and reportedly Israeli bookstores are selling (and running out of) copies in record numbers.

The move is being described (for example here, here and here) in the way anyone involved in the decision ought to have been warned about (in advance!) by their PR people: a disastrous, closed minded move which is the antithesis of a democratic society.

While it can be understood educationally why Jewish schools in Israel (and elsewhere) might not want to use a book making intermarriage or assimilation somehow positive or more familiar. It is, after all, a fact that Jewish schools actually try to prevent assimilation. But, not wanting to “promote” assimilation is surely not being served by a decision which has turned out to be the best PR and sales move the author and publisher could have ever hoped for. (I always tell my clients to pray for a book ban. Seriously.)

A book that might have barely been used by educators is now likely a top choice. And the ban makes many (most?) people more sympathetic to the book, the author and the topic. Fiction can always make something difficult seem romantic and worthy. So the Education Ministry is probably not very pleased right now. Yet, there could have been another approach.

Here is what the Education Ministry should have done:  produce the best resources (in print, video, anything & everything) to help educators and students discuss the book and the issues it raises (especially assimilation, intermarriage etc.). Don’t ban a book. It doesn’t work anyway. Engage with the book. Get people talking, angry, happy or frustrated. Provide quality, engaging sources about Jewish continuity, assimilation and other relevant topics. If these resources were available, they might have been used in collaboration with the book and could have helped young Israeli Jews and their teachers really grapple with the issues of assimilation, Jewish identity and more. Instead, they’ve helped the book become an even better seller than it already was. It is likely the ban will be lifted at some point and the book will be adopted by more schools than ever before – and the Education Ministry will have no input into the discussions held. Too bad.

 

 

Chanukah Inspired by the Land of Israel: Food & Spirituality

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Chana Bracha Siegelbaum’s new book

Chana Bracha Siegelbaum has just published a new book called The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel (Menorah-Books). The Torah singles out seven fruits (olives, dates and much more!) which grow in Israel for special mention. These foods thus have a special status in Jewish law and tradition. and Chana Bracha has created a guide which focuses on these specific species in a big way. Yes, it is a a cookbook, but it also is filled with nutritional and spiritual information about all the fruits and recipes. Rebbetzin Siegelbaum has gathered into one book what seems to be anything that can be learned about each of these fruits. The book also includes art and photographs which make the book look and feel more like a treasury of information rather than “only” a cookbook.  Rebbetzin Siegelbaum is a super busy educator, director of a well known women’s seminary (B’erot Bat Ayin) and currently planning a speaking tour to the USA as well as preparing for family visits from Denmark so I appreciate that she made time to participate in 8 for 8 in honor of Chanukah 2014 as we meet a different cookbook author each day of the holiday.

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Galleys of the book before printing

What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah as you grew up? Any special food memories?

I grew up in Denmark in a very assimilated home, but I do remember the Chanukah candles that we lit that stands out in my mind. We definitely didn’t have sufganiot, but we did have something like wafers that we made on a special wafer pan, they were like pancakes but they weren’t just for Chanukah. Perhaps we did have latkes with apple sauce and of course I especially liked the applesauce.

How has your Chanukah changed since you moved to Israel?

Chanukah has become much more meaningful since moving to Israel and becoming Torah observant. The belief in miracles and in how Hashem runs the world is a central part of my life now. However, the light of Chanukah in exile, in the dark Denmark was special because it was a light within a darker darkness, the darkness of assimilation. It was the light the kept the Jewish flame alive within all the darkness of the values of the Western world which are often so foreign or opposed to Jewish values.

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The author with her parents

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Author with her husband

What do you do during Chanukah to create a memorable holiday atmosphere for your family? 

I bought my husband a very special Chanukiah (menorah), which we light at the entrance of our home with real olive oil.

The olive tree, which is the first tree recorded after the destruction of the flood, is the fruit of redemption. Its foliage is evergreen and its oil lights eternally, even during exile through the holy menorah of Chanukah. The bitterness of the olive alludes to a higher realm beyond what can be revealed as sweet in this world. When Hashem created Original Light, He saw that it was too good to be revealed for the people of this world. Therefore, He hid it away for the righteous in the World to Come. We can get a glimpse of this hidden light (Ohr Haganuz) every year on Chanukah, when we light the Chanukiah, the Chanukah lamp. After the destruction of both Temples, only the Chanukah lights, representing the flames of olive oil burning in the holy Menorah, accompany us throughout our spiritual darkness and light the way to redemption.

Are you eating different foods for Chanukah now than you did in the past? What are they?

I make latkes for my family but I minimize eating them myself as fried food is not so healthy. I also make a healthier version of the latkes by baking them rather than frying. I like to include other vegetables in the latkes such as zucchini, and carrots. We also eat milk products on Chanukah to commemorate Yehudit, the heroine of the Chanukah Story who fed Holofernes the general of the king of Assyrian milk before killing him and thus causing the  victory for the Jews.

What are the top food questions people ask you about for Chanukah? For other holidays?

People ask me how to stay healthy during Chanukah and I tell them about sugarless whole-wheat sufganiot with cream of dates, and baked sweet-potato latkes. In my book I shared my recipes for such desserts.  The recipes are not typical Jewish foods recipes or holiday recipes. Rather, my style of cooking is more natural and nutritious. The desserts are sugarless and I include many salads and try to avoid fried food.

 Latkes or sufganiot?

None of the above, thank you!

chanukah2What is one dish you must eat during Chanukah no matter what?

Quinoa with olive oil and za’atar or natural sea salt! That’s one of my favorite foods during the week and on Chanukah I may splurge more on the olive oil.

Which recipe would you like to share with us for Chanukah?

I’d like to share a simple dip which is based on olive oil and is something which can be used very often. After the recipe, I’ll share an excerpt from The Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel which speaks about olive oil, the Temple and Chanukah.

OLIVE OIL WITH ZA’ATAR (HYSSOP MIXTURE)

An easy dip to complement your bread and salads

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup za’atar mixture

Mix the olive oil and za’atar mixture well with a spoon and pour into

a nice glass jar, which you can keep on your dinner table, ready to

sprinkle over your whole wheat bread, grains and vegetables.

Instead of serving butter, fill a small condiment dish with extra virgin

olive oil and za’atar for use on grains, bread and potatoes, or drizzle

it over sauteed vegetables before serving.

Some thoughts on Chanukah: The Olive Oil in the Temple (excerpted from Seven Fruits of the Land of Israel)

It is interesting to note that the biblical lamp oil – the olive oil used for the Menorah in the Temple – had to be of the highest quality, even superior to today’s extra virgin olive oil. The Torah instructs the children of Israel “to bring clear olive oil beaten for light, to set up the lamp continually.” Rashi explains the word כּתִָית /katit – ‘beaten’ (used today to refer to virgin olive oil) as follows: “He pounds the olives in a mortar, but must not grind them in a mill, so that there may be no sediment.” He further explains the continued processing of olive oil: “After he has thus extracted the first drop of oil, he may bring the olives into the mill and grind them. The second oil [obtained by grinding] is unfit for use in the candelabrum but is permissible for meal offerings…” For this reason, even today, when lighting the Chanukiah, it is recommended to use the very best olive oil. Using the highest quality olive oil for the lights of Chanukah is a segulah (spiritual remedy) for begetting righteous children, as it states, “…your children [shall be] like olive plants round about your table.”Rabbanit Yamima Mizrachi further explains that although it is permissible to use any kind of oil for the Chanukah candelabra, the Chanukiah that we have today is in commemoration of the Menorah in the Temple, which used only the purest olive oil. Therefore, if we want all the spiritual remedies of the Menorah in the Temple – righteous children, good memory, wisdom, good vision, spiritual and physical health, it is important to use the very best quality olive oil for the Chanukah lights.

 

A Hanukkah Music Video Which Has (surprise!) Great Music

Many holiday music videos are fun to watch or have a great message. But the music? Sometimes mediocre. But Shtar, a Jewish hip hop band of Yanks and Brits in Israel has solved the problem. A holiday music video with terrific music.  Full disclosure – Shtar were clients of mine for a bit – which makes this video all the more a pleasure. Also….the band members (as well as the very talented video editor and director Brian Spector are all neighbors of mine (cool, no?).

Enjoy. It is a wonderful song and video.

 

Score! A Jerusalem Bookstore. A Jewel.

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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.

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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.

 

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The background music could have been playing from these records

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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

 

Ingredients

200 gr. chocolate chopped

200 gr. butter

200 gr. ground almonds

1 cup sugar

5 eggs separated

 

 

 

 

Instructions

  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.

 

Translating Hebrew Literature to English…..What About Slang and Natalie Portman?!

Jessica Steinberg has an interesting new piece on The Times of Israel about writer and translator Assaf Gavron. He describes stepping into the lives of the characters he writes about as well the challenge of translating Hebrew into English. What does he do with idioms such as “chaval al hazman”…..is it ““a waste of time” or  “fuhgeddaboudit”? Read more here.writers-block

New Law Defends Authors in Israel

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The Knesset – Israeli Parliament, Jerusalem

Next month  a new Israeli law (Law for the Protection of Literature and Authors in Israel)  will take effect which aims to protect the income of authors. Israel is a book crazy country. And to cash in on this, the large bookstore chains have taken to offering books for sale in bundles or in “buy one get one free” deals which translate to impossibly low prices for books while hurting the royalties of authors.  In addition, the killer prices have skewed the market often ignoring quality books in favor of those that store owners see as a sure thing. Time will tell if lawmakers have been able to help Israeli authors and literature against what often seems to be the heartless industry of book selling.