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

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

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

Cook in Israel

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

 Orly, what made you decide to write a cookbook?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviews, Facebook and email marketing.

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

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

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

I always prefer bake instead of frying.

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

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


A Personal Recipe from Orly Ziv

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

Chocolate & Almonds Cake

Kosher for Passover



200 gr. chocolate chopped

200 gr. butter

200 gr. ground almonds

1 cup sugar

5 eggs separated






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


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”… it ““a waste of time” or  “fuhgeddaboudit”? Read more here.writers-block

New Law Defends Authors in Israel

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.

National Jewish Book Awards for 2013 Announced



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



Cook in Israel – If Life Gives You Lemons…..Preserve Them.

I am excited to be working on publicity for the new cookbook succinctly entitled Cook in Israel. Author Orly Ziv is a culinary tour guide in Israel. She takes people to the places that provide the best produce and food making for a different experience than most tourists have. For foodies…..this is really a great way to get to know Israel from a different angle. Orly also teaches cooking in her home in Tel Aviv. Her new book is a great way to take the flavors and colors of Israeli food home or for those abroad to experience and learn Israeli cooking at home. After looking through the book (there are 100 recipes, they all look terrific) I chose to make the preserved lemons. I buy something like this in the supermarket and have been looking for a way to make it home. I am providing some pictures here. This is not professional food photography but I think it  may get you to pucker your lips anyway. Check back here in a week or so when I open the jar and test this lemon delicacy.


8 Books for 8 Days. (Chanukah is coming!)


Chanukah is approaching and I am interested in hearing from folks;  what are your top 8 books for this Chanukah?  Based on feedback, I will be posting a list of “8 Books for 8 Days (of Chanukah)”. So please share the books you suggest. They don’t have to be connected to Chanukah but…they ought to be great books with Jewish content. So, what have you been reading?What have you loved reading lately? I look forward to hearing from you!  Please post your choices here on the Awesome Book Blog. Thanks

The Talmud as an App? Wow.

artscroll gemara I work with some of the editors “behind the scenes” of the new ArtScroll Talmud App.  I have seen them labor for a long time on every detail of helping put this App together. I was finally given a brief tour today of the App and it is simply amazing.  The written Talmud may be the most linked, non-digital book ever written. Small footnotes and symbols throughout the text and the commentaries direct the learner to an endless wealth of source text, commentaries, legal opinions and much more.  So the fact that a digital version of the Talmud exists is not surprising at all.  And this is not the first one. But watching this Talmud app in action is really extraordinary. There are so many links to important material as well as translations to English when needed.  It seems to have the user in mind.  I hope it will only help those who want to further their Jewish learning.

In the wake of the conversation here last week about the challenges facing Jewish publishing, seeing this App shows there is a lot of creativity out there and a willingness (and ability) to use technology in the service of the Torah and Jewish learning.  I know many feel that this weakens the learner,  takes away the motivation to learn Aramaic and really struggle with the text. There is a lot of truth to that. At the same time, it is hard (impossible?) to avoid technology and the desire to be where people “are at”. It will be interesting to see how this develops and how much a part (and in which ways) of Jewish life this sort of digital learning format will become.

Is something hurting Orthodox Jewish publishing?

kids reading
If we want books, we need publishers. Right?

I met today with the CEO and Editor in Chief of a well regarded publisher in NY (where else?). Their market is primarily the Orthodox Jewish English speaking market – probably mostly North America and Israel.

These fellows have been in the business for decades and really know their stuff.  The CEO raised a question which I found very interesting.  It was something like this:  “If the Orthodox Jewish community is growing at the rapid rate everyone says it is, and everyone is “having 9 kids, who then go and have 9 kids, why are we often selling less books than we did 20 years ago? What is cannibalizing Jewish publishing?”

Good questions. This CEO pointed to some culprits which, in his opinion, are responsible for sales shrinking for at least some titles:

1. The incredible success of Orthodox Jewish publishing.  Success might be a problem in this case. Over the past few decades there has been an explosion in the number of  books published with Orthodox readers in mind.  There are so many new titles, reprints and classics that an average consumer can’t buy them all.  So even if more books are being purchased these days, others will be getting left at the store and in bigger numbers than in the past when there were less choices.

2. Libraries – many people are using the library for getting new books rather than purchasing them. While not a new phenomenon, the impact seems greater than in the past.

3. The “new” Orthodox Jewish media – in the Orthodox Jewish English reading “world” there are now 2 hugely popular weekly magazines which didn’t exist 10 years ago (Mishpacha and Ami) and  a large, almost national newspaper, Hamodia,  (in addition to scores of local papers). One can argue about exactly which magazines and newspapers people are reading – but the massive growth and popularity of this media is self-evident.

As the CEO put it “the magazines are packed with news, stories and the serials which keep a family busy and talking for days and they cost about $5….so why buy a book? It is content, content, content.  But not from books.” In the general market, content which “substitutes” for books is more of the on-line variety.  But the impact on the publishing world may be similar.

It has become a truism that for Orthodox Jews, who do not use computers or e-book readers on the Sabbath or most holidays, there will always be a place for books. Yet,  if magazines are filling the need for reading content, and libraries can provide books for free to those who want them – what happens to book publishing?

We discussed how it seems clear (to us, at least) that it is in the public interest that  publishers bring out books.  Is it possible to encourage consumers to consider and get behind this? Can consumers become supporters of book publishing because they see it as a good thing, sort as some people “support the arts”?





Natan Sharansky, Jeremy Barkan z”l and Jewish Heroism

Last night I had the sad honor of attending a program in memory of Jeremy Barkan z”l the late husband of dear friend Lisa Barkan. Jeremy passed away after a number of heroic medical struggles leaving behind a legacy of kindness, idealism and optimism.

Jeremy Barkan z”l

Lisa invited Natan Sharansky to speak and it was a deeply moving experience.  I have heard him speak a number of times and he is a regular in the news so I was unprepared be so impacted by Sharansky’s talk.  Soon after his release from Soviet prison I was at his first public lecture to students and  it was quite an “event” but I do not recall his speech being very strong. In fact I remember barely understanding his English.

Last night was different.

Natan spoke of being in a KGB prison facing a potential death sentence. He described the KGB efforts to break his will and his decision to remain spiritually free even if he was locked in a Soviet dungeon.  He connected his experiences to the decisions of Jeremy to stay positive, upbeat and to live life to the fullest despite harrowing experiences.

He explained that becoming an active Jew in the USSR was more than just a dissident act, it was joining the chain of Jewish history. His life was now more than just a career and physical survival in the rough reality of a communist state, it now had significance that went beyond his own personal existence.  Sharansky explained that his decision to stay free and not submit to KGB threats took on important meaning. He sensed  that his behavior with the KGB could have great impact far beyond his own personal life.

Those words rang loud and true.

His heroic acts, his statements and those of his wife were calls to me and many friends to live beyond our personal interests.  Reading the book Sharansky published in freedom, Fear No Evil was of great import to me and thousands of others.  The details of the book revealed how heroic he had actually been.

Fear No Evil. Read this book and share it widely!

Many times I have brought up Natan Sharansky’s name with young guests we have hosted.  I am always still surprised that most of them don’t know who he is.  They also know very little (if anything) about the heroic struggle of Soviet Jewry. It is sad and not because of some nostalgic sense of “gee, the kids today don’t know anything.”  It is because heroes  offer guidance and shed light on what is really important in life. It is because not knowing about this struggle and these people means they are missing out.

How many Jewish heroes are there today?

Jewish newspapers today are filled with lists of Jewish leaders or innovators changing the world in one way or another and hi-tech success stories in Israel fill many hearts with pride. Who knows how hard it was for the folks at WAZE to insist that Google not close down their Israeli office as a condition for sealing a deal. It is inspiring to see people standing up for something good and looking beyond their own good fortune.

And yet, it is different.

Jeremy Barkan z”l was a hero for his family and his community. He influenced and touched an incredible number of people professionally, Jewishly and personally.  He is an inspiration and an example.

Sharansky is a hero of a national scale. And there are many other heroic Jews who fought the Communist system as well. He and his fellow fighters for Jewish freedom are of a different era and level of sacrifice. I hope the suffering of the Communist system will never return and never squeeze humans to the point where many break and others produce heroic lives.  At the same time, I hope the examples of lives and decisions such as those of Natan Sharansky will serve as inspiration for more people.  Especially for people who don’t realize that heroes like Sharansky are walking the streets of Jerusalem, maybe even right past them on a Shabbat afternoon!

People don’t have to be in KGB jails to live meaningfully. But inspiration and knowledge are important to living such lives.  Books such as Fear No Evil  can be important tools to getting there.

The Top 50 Hebrew Books of All Time – In Honor of Book Week (from Makor Rishon)


In honor of Israel’s Book Week, the popular Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon  published results of a reader poll of the top 50 Hebrew books of all time.  The poll was run via their weekend magazine (so hip it hurts)  Motzash  which means “Saturday night” in a slangy sort of way. The poll picked many books which, in my opinion,  quite simply had to be on the list. But, as is the case with such polls, more recent titles seem to slip through to the top.  I can’t help but think  this is a case of recent literary memory winning over books read years ago. As always, “out of sight, out of mind”.

Regardless, this is an worthwhile list and many of the titles have been translated into English. For those interested in improving their Hebrew or becoming more familiar with the cultural context of Israeli life,  try to read in Hebrew! If you are relatively fluent, keep a dictionary nearby and look up a few words here and there or use the context to help you and “lo yikre klum” as they say in Hebrew….nothing (bad) will happen!

A look at the top five:

First place is  Our Holocaust by Amir Guttfreund.   A prize winner, a mega-bestseller.  Historical fiction which offers an inside look at how the holocaust touched (touches) so much of Israeli life.

Second place is  Tale of Love & Darkness by Amos Oz. Bestseller translated into over 20 languages! Autobiographical, first published in 2002.

Third:  Adjusting Sights by Haim Sabato.  A bestselling game changer in Israeli literature as it is historical fiction/memoir written by a Rabbi. Gently weaves religious references and sources into the dramatic story of yeshiva students called up to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Fourth: Uri by Esther Streit-Vertzel  (this is a classic children’s title)

Fifth:  “Guy Oni” – Valley of Strength (sounds much better in Hebrew).  It has been translated into English by The Toby Press.  Written by Shulamit Lapid (mother of Israel’s latest political star Yair Lapid), this title has become an Israeli classic telling the story of early Zionist pioneering through the journey of the young Fania. This was rare as women were often written out early Zionist history. Lapid has helped rectify this.