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.

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



For The Season of Renewal: A Classic Text Revised

Gates of Repentance, new edition 3D

The Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur period is always a time of focusing on books with ethical messages and guides to improvement.  The classic Shaarei Tshuvah: Gates of Repentance is probably a top choice for many to learn at this time. Written by Rabeinu Yonah and first published in 1505, this book is a pillar of  mussar (ethics) study and is used year round. For quite some time I have been planning to dedicate time to learning this book and Feldheim’s newly revised Shaarei Teshuvah: Gates of Repentance was the impetus to start.  There is a new English translation which makes the book as accessible as possible. I found it very helpful when confronting some of the (literally) medieval Hebrew. Footnotes appear often enough to inform and assist but not so often that they distract. I am grateful to have had this book over Rosh Hashanah. I smiled when I realized that the translator (Rabbi Yosef Leibler) and I belong to the same shul!

This book is a classic for a reason. It clearly lays out the importance of repentance as well as how to accomplish this task. In painstaking fashion, the various mitzvos and prohibitions of the Torah are categorized so that an understandable system is available to the reader. In fact, the whole book is structured with incredible precision, each category followed by sub-categories and more sub-categories.  It is sophisticated and rich in detail and wisdom.

The messages of the book are powerful, often way beyond what our generation is used to hearing. Yet, I think this book ought to play an important role in education today. A properly prepared Rebbe or teacher could use this book as a full curriculum. It would be wonderful if Feldheim could provide a study guide or lesson outline for educators to accompany this book. Despite being over 500 years old, there is so much that a modern Jewish education system can glean from this work. Feldheim should be thanked for the investment of time and resources to publish this completely revised edition. I hope that it will lead to this important book being used to a greater extent in schools and yeshivos.

This book belongs in every Jewish library – home or otherwise.

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.

A Jewish Werewolf – Unorthodox Fiction from an Orthodox Jewish Author

Possible book cover photo

Wolves are “in”. Werewolves seem to be even more “in”. A few years ago someone approached me with a book about Jewish vampires and I wasn’t sure there would be readers for it. By the time Ira Berkowitz called me about his book A Wolf in the Soul, I knew it was time. This theme seemed to be popping up everywhere I looked and I thought his book was really good.  I have heard many readers (especially younger ones) complain that they don’t connect with fiction written for Orthodox Jews. Wolf in the Soul was not written for Orthodox Jews – yet it is something that many will feel is “kosher” and doesn’t offend their sensibilities or values. Yet, it is out of the box. It is definitely not “same old, same old”. The reviews have been great. And you read more of them here, here and here. It has been fun to work with Ira on getting his book published as well as seeing how much readers enjoy it. The following interview with Ira ought to help readers know him better. Enjoy!

Why did you undertake the huge task of writing fiction?

Shortly before I undertook writing this novel, I was dying to be an actor. I talked about acting, read about acting, took acting classes, and even prayed to God that I’d fulfill my dream of being an actor.

But it was nearly impossible to be an actor, both because I’m an Orthodox Jew and because my dream meant too much to me. Acting was too daunting to undertake! But writing, which I knew I could do, didn’t intimidate me so much. So I put my creative energy into that instead.

 Your book is not typical of what is seen as “Orthodox Jewish Fiction” – do you see your book as part of that genre?

In a word, no. Orthodox Jewish fiction is meant exclusively for Orthodox readers. It assumes a common background and common values. My book doesn’t assume either. So while Orthodox Jews (albeit somewhat daring ones) can enjoy my book, so can other types of Jews and  non-Jews. In fact, three non-Jewish readers told me personally that they liked the book.

How much of the book is biographical?

Okay, I’m going to state this for the record: I did not become a werewolf when I was a freshman at Columbia!

I was a senior in high school when it happened.

In all seriousness, I can say that–not surprisingly–some of the book is autobiographical and some of it isn’t. Like Greg Samstag, the main character, I did grow up on Long Island, and I did attend a modern Orthodox yeshiva, and I did attend Columbia University.

But my family was Orthodox, unlike Greg’s. And my parents were very close to each other, unlike Greg’s parents.

Which details of Greg’s life correspond to my life? I’m not telling!

You write detailed descriptions of what a wolf senses, feels and does. How did you learn about this? What sort of research did you do?

At the age of 10 or 11, I became interested in wolves. A teacher of mine, named Mrs. Fox (no, I’m not making this up), gave me an LP narrated by the actor Robert Redford that gave a glimpse into wolf behavior and provided some great recordings of wolf howls. I loved it. In my 20’s, I read books and articles by Barry Lopez, L. David Mech, and others. In preparation for this book, I did even more reading and studied videos of wolves. It became something of an obsession.


How did you know how to craft the dialogue and banter between the characters in your book – so much of it is specific to certain age groups, etc?

I’m flattered by the question. Really, I just try to imagine how a particular character would speak. It takes more work, though, imagining the dialogue of female characters.

And working with a good editor certainly helps if you’ve struck a wrong note! Deborah Meghnagi Bailey‘s advice was invaluable.

What tips do you have for someone who is interested in writing fiction?

Okay, a few tips. But I’m not a veteran writer.

1) Writing an outline for a novel is a good idea. Even if you veer from the outline, you’ll still feel more secure if you have one. Also, sketching interiors is a good idea. You don’t want to put the stove on one side of the kitchen on page 14 and then end up putting it on the other side of the kitchen on page 237.

2) For Heaven’s sakes, write notes for yourself. If you try to keep all your ideas in your head, you’ll literally give yourself a headache. I wrote notes on two small whiteboards in my study. They saved my sanity.

3) Say a psalm or two and give a coin to charity before you start a writing session. Ask God for help.

4) I learned this one from Joseph Kaufman: Every part of your book should be as good as every other part. If you think one section is a little weak, you’ve got a problem.

5) If something sounds awkward, it is.

6) Take care of tiny details that no one else would notice.

7) No matter how hard you work, the book is not going to be perfect. You have to accept that.

8) Writing a book is not an impossible job, nor is it an exalted calling. Don’t idolize some famous authors, and in the process, disqualify your own work.

9) Write the kind of book that you yourself would like to read.

That’s it!



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 here. In Israel, the book may be ordered directly from me by e-mail.


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?


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!