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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.

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

Celebrating Chanukah with Levana: Foodie Innovator of NYC

Levana restaurant   credit  AJ Wilhelm, Carmen Lopez

Levana restaurant , NYC credit AJ Wilhelm, Carmen Lopez

A recent article claimed that Jews who keep kosher have all become “foodies”. If there is one person to credit for kicking off this phenomenon, it is probably Levana. She brought upscale kosher dining to NY when the stereotype and expectation of kosher food was that it was deli food. And while there is nothing wrong with great deli, Levana showed everyone that there is much more to kosher food than ethnic food. Here restaurant (called, surprise, Levana) was a game changer for NY kosher restaurants. Today there are many fine kosher restaurants in NY, Levana set the standard. Open for decades, serving food people loved and looked forward to, Levana introduced many to new foods, warm hospitality and higher standards.

Levana & bookSince then, Levana has been very prolific and published a number of critically acclaimed cookbooks as well as speaking, doing food demos and educating widely about how delicious recipes can also be healthy and relatively simple to prepare. She is a woman with a mission and quite busy, so I am super pleased that Levana is taking part in the 8 for 8 celebration of Chanukah here on my blog!

Levana, do you have memories of celebrating Chanukah in Morocco? What are some highlights? Any special food related memories?

To be frank, growing up in Morocco, Chanukah was absolutely no big deal in terms of social gatherings. We made a much greater deal of Tu BiShvat and Purim, they were huge bashes. On Chanukkah, in each house, everyone made their favorite fried treat, just one night. My mom made the Arabic donuts, Sfenj. But that was about it, beside Chanukah lighting every night, of course.

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

Seriously: Lots of Latkas! Homemade a must!

 How has your Chanukah celebration changed over the years?

I have happily adopted my husband’s minhagim (customs), which include making a much greater deal of celebrating Chanukah than I ever did in the past. Lots of Latkas (not just potato Latkas), donuts, kids presents, menorah lighting at home and in public places. My son Yakov and his wife Elisheva are Chabad Shluchim in Washington Heights, which means menorah lighting in one of the Washington Heights Parks, a kids Chanukah party etc. It’s always a wonderful time to put family and friends together, and do silly stuff. We need all the fun we can get!
What was it like to be a restaurant owner during Chanukah?

It meant getting ready for more family reservations. It also meant always including Latkas on the menu to go with dinner, and even whole Chanukah parties with fun menus including Latkas and fritters, both savory and sweet.

Latkes or sufganiot?

I’m going with Latkas!

What are the things you must eat or do during Chanukah, no matter what?

I must get all my kids and grandkids together one of the Chanukkah nights, make lots of Latkas, and a homemade apple sauce, and watch it get all devoured. Give out gifts to everyone big and small. Loving Bubbie, loving Zaidie, what do you expect?

Will you please share a few Chanukah recipes with us?

Happy to share! I am going to share my latka recipe plus my thoughts of “fear of frying therapy” (which you can also find on  my blog).

 

Levana Latkas4Latkas from Levana:

Ingredients: Makes 24 latkas.

vegetable oil for frying

1 cup flour, any flour, including gluten-free

4 eggs

1 medium onion, grated in a food processor

salt and pepper to taste

pinch nutmeg

8 large Idaho or russet potatoes, peeled

Instructions:

Heat 1/3 inch oil in a heavy frying pan until very hot. While the oil is heating, place the flour, eggs, onion, salt and pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl, and mix thoroughly. Quickly grate the potatoes in a food processor, and immediately stir them into the batter, making sure not to squeeze so as not to extract unwanted extra moisture. Work very quickly so they do not have time to get discolored. Form small patties, and lower them into the hot oil, or drop the batter by heaping tablespoons. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with applesauce (try my homemade applesauce: nothing to it, and it’s wonderful!), or plain yogurt.

Variations:

Vegetable latkes: Replace the potatoes with a mixture of zucchini, carrots and parsnips. Add seasonings of your choice such as oregano, minced fresh garlic and basil.

Sweet potato latkes: Substitute sweet potatoes for the regular potatoes, and add brown sugar, cinnamon, curry and ginger to taste. Try serving them with my Hot Pepper Jelly!

Potato Kugel: That’s right: What else is it but a giant latka? Add 1/3 cup of vegetable oil to the potato latka batter. Pour the batter into a greased loaf or square pan, and bake uncovered in a preheated 375*F oven for one hour or until the top is golden brown.

 

Levana’s Frying Tips

I rarely fry anything, but there is no Chanukkah without Frying! In my catering career and for my friends and family at home, I have made thousands upon thousands of them and always watch them disappear at a flatteringly alarming rate. There is no doubt about it: latkas are a heavenly treat, and once we enter a house where the glorious fragrance of latkas frying wafts through the kitchen, even a very spartan dieter (whom I have yet to meet) will sheepishly watch his or her noble resolution not to “get near it” turn to dust.

You may have guessed it: I have nothing nice to say about frying. Getting burned long ago while fishing out a schnitzel from the frying pan, which eluded me and defiantly jumped back into the pan splattering my hand, turning it into a human dumpling for days and leaving its ugly scar for many months, didn’t help endear this method of cooking to me. But my love for latkas has not suffered at all, thank you.

Frying (stir-frying does not fall into this category, as it requires very little oil and minimal cooking) is the nemesis of every health-conscious cook, this one included. However, fried foods are irresistibly delicious. I am happy to provide a few frying tips and guidelines for making occasional treats efficiently and safely: consider the following frying tips a mini crash course on conquering the fear of frying! These frying tips apply not only to latkas (any latkas, savory and sweet) but anything you might be frying (shnitzels, fish fillets, etc…)
– Keep it dry. Too much moisture will steam food instead of frying it, yielding soggy results. Be sure to dry whatever you are frying thoroughly with paper towels.
– Keep it thick. With a firm (not runny) batter, you will be able to form thicker patties, which will absorb much less oil than thinner ones. The ouside will be crisp and the center will be tender yet cooked through.
– Keep it hot. Less-than-hot oil will seep into your food, making it inedibly greasy. If you are adding oil to your pan while frying, chances are your oil was not hot enough to begin with. When your oil is good and hot, you will need to add very little if any to finish frying an entire batch of food. How hot is hot enough? Drop a smidgen of batter into the oil. If it sizzles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot and ready for frying.
– Keep it steady. Do not crowd the pan. First of all, you will make handling the food more difficult. Also, crowding will bring down the temperature of the oil. Adding what you are frying at steady intervals ensures that the oil has time to return to the desired temperature.
– Keep it lean. I have my mother to thank for this advice. Rather than using spatulas or slotted spoons, work with two forks when frying. Lift each fried item with a fork on each side, and hold it vertically for a second or two over the frying pan: You will be surprised by how much oil drips off it. Immediately place the items on a plate lined with several layers of paper towels, which will absorb any remaining unwanted grease.
– Keep it white. This applies only to potato dishes. Peeled potatoes will oxidate when exposed to air and turn an unappealing gray color. So when making latkes (or a potato kugel), get everything ready and peel and grate the potatoes last, adding them immediately to the otherwise finished batter.
– Keep it fresh and hot. A word about freezing and reheating. If you are entertaining a large group, it won’t be enormous fun spending the afternoon frying while everyone is having a good time. If you must fry in advance, follow all the above guidelines, but fry each item until it is ninety percent cooked through, no more. Store it in a shallow pan in one layer. You can also place the latkas in the pan vertically, like a deck of cards; you will be able to fit quite a few in a pan in this position (again, one layer). Cover tightly. Refrigerate or freeze, depending on how long in advance you are preparing the dish. Reheat uncovered, at about 350*F, for fifteen to twenty minutes if it was frozen, until golden and crisp.

 

 

8 for 8 with Ronnie Fein! Eight Cookbook Authors for Eight Days of Chanukah.

Welcome to the 8 for 8 series in honor of Chanukah 2014. We will be focusing on 8 cookbook authors, one for each day of the holiday. Let’s talk to these foodies and see how they celebrate Chanukah and what they are cooking, baking and enjoying! I do not promise that we will spell “Chanukah” consistently all 8 days.

Ronnie Fein is a renowned cookbook author who literally wrote the Idiot’s Guides to Cooking. Ronnie has just released The Modern Kosher Kitchen (Fair Winds Press)  with a forward by Jamie Geller.

Ronnie Fein

Ronnie’s new book focuses on creative and interesting recipes while not being intimidating. There is a lot of buzz surrounding the book which is really nice to see. I had the pleasure to work with Ronnie over the past year as she edited the new cookbook Gluten Free Around the World by Aviva Kanoff which I coordinated. (Aviva will be featured in 8 for 8 this week!). It is always terrific to work with such nice and professional people and I am grateful that Ronnie agreed to be part of 8 for 8 and I am thrilled to kick off the series by speaking with her.

Ronnie pic

What stands out for you about celebrating Chanukah as you grew up? What about when you were raising a family? Do you have any special food memories?

 Chanukah wasn’t as important when I was a youngster as it seems to be today. Purim and Passover were the bigger holidays. Still, it was festive enough, but there weren’t elaborate preparations, special blue giftwrap and certainly not 8 days worth of presents. I do remember it as a special time because that’s when my Aunt Roz and Uncle Mac would take me, my brother Jeff and cousin Leslie ice skating. What a treat, especially the year we got satin lined skating outfits and our own ice skates for Chanukah! And of course we got gelt, chocolate of course, gold wrapped in mesh bags! We each got our own bag and I still remember clawing the wrappers open to get to the chocolate.

hanukkah-gelt-msn-divine-chocolate

Chanukah became a more celebratory event when I was raising my own children. There was more talk about it at school, even though the majority of children were not Jewish, in an effort to be more inclusive. So it more or less had become a well known Americanized holiday that everyone knew about, not just Jewish families. My husband Ed and I also gave the children 8 gifts, usually one or two big ones, the others that were just fun or silly. My kids were excited to open one each night to see whether it was the “good” one or not. And they still joke about the socks, which was always one of the eight. As for food – they also got gelt, same awful chocolate, same mesh bags.

 Has your Chanukah changed since you became a chef and author?

Significantly. As I read more and more about Chanukah in order to prepare for my food articles, I learned about the historical events that preceded our celebration. More to the point, not only did I understand the Maccabee victory and what it meant for the future of the Jewish people, but I learned about the part that Judith played. Judith was a brave widow who lived in the town of Bethulia in Judea in the second century BCE. Who knows what the outcome would have been if Judith hadn’t dined with Holofernes, a general in the enemy’s army? She made him eat plates and plates of salty cheese, which got him thirsty and so he drank lots of wine and fell asleep, whereupon she decapitated him! When they learned their general was dead, the Greek army was confused and broken, allowing the Jews to launch their victorious attack.

I have two daughters and it was important for me to tell them about a woman’s role in the victory. I retold the story every year and made sure that we had a cheese-oriented meal, in honor of Judith. Now I have three grand daughters and we still follow that tradition. Some say Shavuot is the cheese holiday, but for us, it’s Chanukah. 

What is Chanukah like with the Fein family?

Our family is kind of tribal! We get together for every major holiday. My children and grand children sleep over, the kids play together and we eat lots of good food. I make fresh, hot, crispy latkes every year, no matter what else I cook. Cheese latkes and potato latkes and sometimes a new variety (last year it was sweet potato latkes with dried cranberries). For Chanukah we line the kids’ presents up on our hearth and on top of the pile we put that old classic, a mesh bag filled with chocolate Chanukah gelt. This year it will be a little different. I wrote an article for the Jewish Week on “gourmet gelt” – upscale chocolate coins. When our family got together for Thanksgiving, the older kids saw the boxes in my cabinet and were curious. They said they are expecting the “good” chocolate gelt this year!

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

Most definitely. My parents didn’t know that Chanukah was originally a holiday on which people ate cheese. As a historical matter, centuries ago, the first latkes people ate to celebrate Chanukah were made with cheese. Unfortunately, many Jews in some of the northern countries such as Russia and Poland, were very poor and couldn’t afford cheese, so they made their latkes with potatoes. As Hillel says, “the rest is commentary.” Maybe not being able to buy cheese was not so unfortunate! Can you imagine life or Chanukah without potato latkes?!

In my growing up there were always potato latkes on Chanukah but these days I serve cheese dishes in addition so the event is one big dairy feast. Some of our favorite Chanukah foods are gougeres (cheese puffs), spinach pie, macaroni and cheese and Chocolate Cheesecake brownies

I serve old fashioned dairy sour cream with the latkes (although some prefer applesauce) but over the years I have also created some interesting dips to go with the latkes, including an interesting tangy one made with plain yogurt and lemongrass.

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

 I always get questions about my challah, no matter what holiday and frankly, even when it isn’t a holiday. It’s a recipe I developed from my grandmother’s notes that had no real measurements and no instructions. I have to brag – it’s the best challah, the very best (it  is the only traditional recipe in my new book). One of the most poignant, touching moments of my life came this year when my daughter asked me to bake the challah for my grandson Zev’s bar mitzvah. I will treasure that request to my dying day.

Challah

I also get requests for rugelach, butter cookies and Grand Finale Cookies (in my book, Hip Kosher), which is a combination of chocolate chip and oatmeal-raisin cookies. These recipes are all available at www.ronniefein.com.

Finally: Latkes or sufganiot?

Ach, it’s not even close. Potato latkes.  Everything else is extra. I like sufganiot but fried potatoes? It’s my “what one food would you take to a desert island if you could only choose one” choice. Anyone who knows me knows I love modern food and have spent my life creating new recipes. But there is no food quite so delicious as potato latkes (and challah!).

Ronnie shared a few recipes with us – just reading them and looking at the pics will likely make you want to include them on your holiday menu:

Chanukah-Levivot-13 (Large)
Potato Latkes with Lemongrass Yogurt Dip

4 large peeled baking potatoes

1 large onion

3 tablespoons matzo meal, breadcrumbs or potato starch

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

vegetable oil for frying

Grate the potatoes and onion into a bowl or, if using a food processor, shred the potatoes and onion together. If you prefer latkes softer, after shredding, place the shreds back into the food processor and use the S-blade. Process the potatoes and onions to a fine consistency. Either squeeze the vegetables in a kitchen towel over a bowl or place the mixture in a rigid strainer set over a bowl and press the vegetables. In either case, wring or squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Add the matzo meal or breadcrumbs or use the solid potato starch that remains at the bottom of the bowl containing the squeezed liquid. Stir in the eggs, salt, pepper and baking powder. Heat about 1/4” vegetable oil in a cast iron or other heavy heat retaining skillet over moderately high heat. Drop some of the potato mixture into the pan, using equal amounts to make each pancake. Fry for 2-3 minutes per side or until the pancakes are golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve with dairy sour cream, nonfat plain yogurt, applesauce or Lemongrass-Yogurt Sauce (below) Makes 12-16

Zucchini-Pancakes-45 (Large)

Lemongrass-Yogurt Dip

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1 scallion, finely chopped

2 teaspoons finely chopped lemongrass

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped chili pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lime peel

2 tablespoons lime juice

salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly to distribute them evenly. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Makes about one cup

 

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies   Ronnie Fein Choc. Cheese cake

1 cup butter

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2-1/2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt,

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Lightly grease a 13”x9” baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan set over low heat (or in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water). When the butter and chocolate have melted, blend them and stir in 2 cups of the sugar and 3 of the eggs. Whisk ingredients thoroughly. Add the flour, salt, nuts (if used) and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and stir in the ingredients with a large wooden spoon. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract until thoroughly blended. Spoon blobs of the cream cheese mixture on top of the chocolate batter. Cut through the cheese, making swirls in the chocolate mixture. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool. Cut into bars with a sharp knife dipped into hot water. Refrigerate. Makes 24-36 pieces

 

Ronnie Fein Herb and Cheese Gougeres

Herb and Cheese Gougeres (Choux Puffs)

 

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons water

1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 cup all purpose flour, sifted

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese

pinch cayenne pepper

egg glaze: 1 large egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and salt all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well blended and begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.* Add the herbs, cheese and cayenne pepper and blend them in thoroughly.

Butter and flour a baking sheet. Drop 3/4 to 1-inch mounds of dough from a teaspoon onto the sheet. Leave space between the mounds for the puffs to rise. For a shiny surface on the puffs, lightly brush the tops of the mounds with some of the egg wash. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the puffs are lightly brown and crispy. Lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake for another 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the puffs in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Or cut them open and fill them. Makes about 60

*Incorporating the eggs is what most people find difficult. Be sure to add them one at a time. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to help you. The mixture will be sticky and at first you think it will never come together, but keep mixing and you’ll see that it does come together. After each egg is incorporated the mixture becomes softer and pastier and stickier. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

 

Self Publishing a Kid’s Book: From Dream to Reality

Dirty Tzitzit front book cover

Tsivya Fox is one of those people who “did it”. She dreamed of writing a book and well, wrote one and published it. While so many people dream of publishing a book, Tsivya took the plunge and went through all the steps of publishing. Her book Dirty Tzitzit, Shiny Neshama is really attractive with colorful illustrations which are upbeat and quite detailed. I can attest to the fact that kids love the book!  I asked Tsivya to share some of her experience here.  What do you think? For those who have published, how is her experience similar or different to yours? For those dreaming of publishing, does Tsivya’s journey make you want to take the next step?

What is the story behind this book and why did you write it?

My friend and I were chatting after he had a long day doing some messy volunteer work for someone.  During our conversation he said, “WOW, I have dirty tzitzit and a grimy kippa.”  I immediately said, “That’s a great name for a children’s book!” and, thus, the book was born.

What surprised you about the whole process?

The whole process took about a year of loving labor. The basic story was written relatively quickly. When I am inspired, the words flow.  However, once the story was on paper, I spent a lot of time perfecting the word usage and story line. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking, “This word is better than that word, etc.”  Then, I sent the story to several friends who provided additional helpful input.

I hired a freelance illustrator who did an amazing  job with the illustrations.  They are very beautiful, loving and happy.  However, making sure that each picture reflected accurately the story as well as wanting the book to be universally accepted by all groups of people was also very time consuming – though totally enjoyable for me.

How did you price the book?

I researched the current prices of Jewish kid’s books so that my book would be in the “ball park” price wise.

What would you do differently now that you are a veteran of writing and publishing your own book?

For financial reasons, I did the first printing of the book as a paperback.  Several book stores and some parents said that they would only take a hard cover.

What were the most effective ways of promoting your book? What worked? What didn’t?

Jewish themed children’s books do not sell themselves.  When I participate in artisan sales, Pre-Chanukah and Pre-Pesach sales, the book sells well.  I found that random advertising doesn’t do too well.  However, the personal presentation shows people how great this book is. Once people read the story, see the colorful pictures, and get the happy reaction from children, they come back to buy more books for friends and family.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Everybody seems to love this book. People stop me on the street to tell me that their children, grandchildren, or students keep asking to hear the story again and again.  I am very grateful to have provided a book which sends a message of kindness, judging favorably, and warmth between parent and child to home and school libraries.

How can someone get the book?

Outside of Israel, the book may be ordered through Amazon.com here. In Israel, the book may be ordered directly from me by e-mail.

 

Social Media is Hand-selling!

 

inside-bookstore-with-customer

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?

 

The Jonathan Sacks Haggada. Different Than All Others?

 

Sacks Haggada side A Koren11

Occasionally I buy a new Passover Haggada  filled with enough commentary to last for a few years of Passover preparation and learning during the holiday. Eventually another Haggada joins my shelf and takes over. I recently used the “Higionei Halacha” Haggada, and afterwards a Haggada called “Marei Cohen” which is based on the commentary of Rav Pam z’l of NY.

This year I purchased the (Rabbi) Jonathan Sacks Haggada published by Koren.  While quite different than my recent choices, I am glad I did. This Haggada offers big picture, “macro” explanations of Passover and the seder. Rabbi Sacks puts the seder into a mix of historical, religious and philosophical contexts illustrating that the seder is no simple holiday meal or even an important holiday meal. It may be the most important activity Jews take part in all year.  Yet, no matter how important his ideas and interpretations are (and they are), Rabbi Sacks serves them up in a very digestible way. Profound ideas can also be understandable, and this seems to be a hallmark of Rabbi Sack’s writing.  Rabbi Sacks explains how the seder is THE tool for ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people and religion  by inculcating values such as compassion for the downtrodden and the belief that there is a Creator writing the script of human history while giving meaning to our lives.  Almost any reader will approach the seder with a renewed sense of mission and appreciation after reading the Sacks Haggada.

While the mention of secular Zionist heroes in a Haggada may seem jarring to some readers, Rabbi Sacks brings them to illustrate important points such the inability for even the most assimilated Jews to escape Jewish destiny.  On the other end of the spectrum, Rav Pam z”l mentions the UN in his Haggada commentary and alludes to the reality of modern Jewish statehood. It seems fitting that current historical figures or events be considered when looking at the Haggada, even if one doesn’t identify with all of them. They illustrate how the story and ideas of the Haggada have been relevant throughout history and today. Modern events and ideas can be considered without participating in what has become the almost annual re-branding farce of Jewish holidays to match current trends (so Jewish holidays can now be “green” etc.).

The Sacks Haggada has an attractive cover and is typeset elegantly. Yes, this Haggada is different than all others because Rabbi Sacks offers new perspectives on Passover while being strongly rooted in Jewish tradition. It is not just “another Haggada”. Thanks to both Rabbi Sacks and Koren for this new addition to the modern Passover library.

 

 

 

Bestselling Cookbook Author Tamar Ansh on New Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids

cover Let My Children Cook   ISBN 9781607631422 jpeg

 

One of first cookbooks for which I did publicity was Taste of Challah by Tamar Ansh. What a blast! I worked hard. Tamar worked hard.  And the book received great exposure and sold quite well. Tamar and I have been in touch ever since and it was a real honor when she asked her current publisher, The Judaica Press, to bring me on as publicist for her latest book  Let My Children Cook! A Passover Cookbook for Kids. Tamar has really done it again, producing a book which both kids and adults love which is also accessible to probably every sort of Jew. I am still a big believer that some books can have a real impact on people and Tamar’s latest book is one of them. This book can bring families together while  connecting with Passover in a fun, non threatening way.

I asked Tamar for an interview and despite a hectic pre-Passover schedule, she graciously agreed. I am excited to welcome her!

Tamar, How did you start writing cookbooks?

My first cookbook was a Pesach cookbook and it started off as a bit of a joke. The gluten free/ non gebrochts market was not in existence then and most people tended to look at those who didn’t eat gebrochts as slightly crazy and of course, having ‘nothing to eat on Pesach’. After making Pesach myself from nearly the beginning of my marriage, I had experience with having lots of choices even though we did not eat gebrochts so I began compiling some of my notes. The clincher was when we had some guests (young women who were newly observant) who told us that they heard that people who don’t eat gebrochts on Pesach have nothing to eat. Yet, they were pretty impressed by all I had laid out for them! That exchange is what got me moving on the book for real. In fact, I originally titled my first document as the “What??? He doesn’t gebrocht?” cookbook! That was too wordy though so I called it A Taste of Tradition.

What have you found difficult in writing cookbooks? What has been unexpected?

The only part of the writing in cookbooks that can be difficult is the sheer size of the task at hand. It’s a LOT of typing and can be overwhelming. And the details are very consuming. One has to make sure all the format of the recipes stays the same, that all the amounts are accurate, that the terms used throughout the book are exact, and then the checking over of everything can take weeks.

On the other hand, one of the perks is that you suddenly find creativity inside yourself that you never knew you had before! You invent new recipes, you find different ways to show how to serve the same old things, people stop you to tell you how much your book or your recipes really made a difference in their Pesach – this makes it all worth it.

How long does it usually take you to write a new book?

This varies and depends greatly on how many other projects I am involved in concurrently, how great my motivation is, what time of year the project is aimed at and how much time I have to the ‘finish line’ and other factors. With Let My Children Cook! I came to the publisher with the idea, outline and book already completed so the book’s creation  took less time.

 Do your books usually turn out as you’d planned?

Since I generally have a very clear vision of what I want my books to look like, and in general I work with the graphic artist very closely, they do come out very close to what I’ve planned and more often, even better!

What have you found are the best ways to promote your books?

Promotion of a book is an all encompassing project. There is no real end to it which can sometimes be draining. For myself as the author and promoter, the most vital aspect is remembering that the work begins 8 months in advance of the book’s projected publication date. If you can remember that and work with this in mind  you will be far more successful at getting popular sites, magazines, newspapers and bloggers to say yes to you when you offer them  your material. Plain hard work and planning is the best way to promote any book. I have enjoyed working with my publicist Stuart Schnee and his staff – they do great work (how is that for a good plug?)

 Your newest book, Let My Children Cook! was written with kids in mind. Why?

I wrote Let My Children Cook! for kids because it was a GREAT idea and has vast potential. It was also a really fun project and since I love working with children and could plug into how kids think about food, I realized there were lots of ideas to share. And a kids’ cookbook that focuses on Passover (not only “Pesach”), a time of year that is so traditional and that Jews of every type will spend together with family just seemed ideal.

It was an enjoyable project, and I feel that Jewish children everywhere, the entire spectrum over will be able to utilize and gain from it. Passover is a family time and I have been cooking with my kids for so many years (we do so all year, not only Passover); it occurred to me that others would enjoy using many of the ideas we do, and that it can even help strengthen other’s family bonding time through time spent in the kitchen – together.

Kids like food that appeals to them, and that use foods with tastes they are used to. When you write a cookbook for kids that you expect them to also be able to use themselves, you need to choose ideas they can execute easily and that have less steps to them. Some recipes are not a full recipe but more a food idea and how to prepare it and make it look nice.

People mistakenly think that letting kids help in the kitchen is, or even should be, a real help. Let me tell you a secret – it’s usually not, especially when they are small! It IS often more mess and time than just ‘doing it yourself.’ HOWEVER, it is something that really creates a beautiful bond and if you realize that you will just have to do less for that hour or two in order to GIVE that fun to your children, it’s very worth it. You only get your kids as kids for a few short years – it’s you to YOU to use these years to create meaningful memories now, before the chance runs away from you.

Kids and memories are built very much around the kitchen, the traditional foods your family uses, the aromas, the tastes, even the build-up to how you made them. You don’t get too many years with your kids; before you know it, they will be teenagers with other people in their lives besides you. You need to grab that opportunity NOW when they are available to you…

At the end of the day it’s “just food.”  But the part that lasts are the memories created because of the food

What 3 tips can you share for making Passover amazing for kids?

When my kids were little we had ten plagues finger puppets and my husband made a whole little show out of them at the table for the kids. They loved it and even though they are teenagers now, they still remember that particular Seder very fondly.

For very little children, the work they do in kindergarten/gan preparing for Pesach is really important to them. It’s vital that you remember to show it off at the table and ask them questions about whatever they have learned. They are eagerly anticipating doing so with you.

I used to prepare a small dish with some special treats in it, Pesach soft candies, chocolate chips and the like, and for every child no matter the age, every time they either asked a question or answered a question, they got to pick one thing from that dish. This worked wonders at getting them to participate, to look forward to the Seder, and to really stay awake and want to say things.

After all, that is the main purpose of the Seder: “To get the children to ask.”

 What tips can you give to adults for making Passover amazing?

  • As much as possible, don’t leave anything you absolutely don’t have to do for the day of Erev Pesach. Try to get most of everything done beforehand and leave only the essentials for that day.
  • Try to get a nap.
  • Turning off the phones by a certain time, turning off the computers, emails, handhelds, cell phones, etc by a certain time will also give you a lot more tranquility and not to mention, ability to focus without constant interruptions.
  • If you pre-plan a sort of format to what you will do each day of the intermediary days (Chol Hamoed) it will go smoother. Even simple things like this park one day, a different park a different day, will make your little ones and even the older ones happier. Even if they complain, once you’re doing it and you’re all out enjoying, you’ll see that they will relax and enjoy it. Older teenagers can bring along a book or reading material if they really think it is “so boring”.
  • When you focus on the good you have around you – your family, a home, good food, tranquility – you will see that you have a lot to be grateful for and all the “hard” work and stress of getting ready will fade away to second place. Not everyone has this privilege and not every generation was able to celebrate Pesach in peace…
  • I usually prepare something filling to feed the entire family with on the day of Erev Pesach; this way everyone is more relaxed by not arriving at candle lighting time completely famished. For us it works to have a fresh, piping hot crunchy potato kugel after our nap and some cool water or juice.

 

What tips do you have to make pre-Passover prep a great experience for families?

  • Get decent sleep so you have energy to work without losing your cool.
  • Make a list of what you’d like to see done that day or for that week. Be specific with the list and be funny too. Ex: one checkbox can be “Eat up all the chocolate in xx drawer after you’ve cleaned it out.” Tell each member of the family to check off what they’ve done from this master list and put their name next to it. You can choose to reward those who have at least 5 or 10 or whatever number you feel appropriate, checks that week.
  • Turn on some music while working.
  • Work with them, don’t just assign jobs and walk away. It’s the togetherness that makes it feel fun.

There are tons of ideas if you put your head to it. These are just some of the ones that work for me.

Above all else, don’t expect that “Helping” will be something your kids will do all day, every day. If you get two hours or so, that’s a big deal. Thank them and let them have down time as well.

My friend Chava Dumas put out a really nice book on this subject that Judaica Press is selling right now also, called Prepare for Pesach—b’simcha! which is all about how to prepare for Pesach with a good attitude. She’s got tons of tips and ideas in the book and I suggest reading it.

Have a wonderful Passover!