2012 National Jewish Book Award Winners Announced….


Mazel tov! The Jewish Book Council has announced the 2012 winners of the National Jewish Book Awards.

Two quick comments:

One – Interesting that one of kids books (When the Hurricane Came) is a self published work.  What does it mean? Not sure. It is not earth shattering news but worthy of attention. I did have a client win a National Jewish Book Award a number of years ago  and I was shocked (the book was very good, but was far from confident a self published book would be considered). I was sure they were going to call me and say a mistake had been made.

Two – It seems so logical that the Koren Talmud would win something. How could it not?


Info on all the winners is here.




So, Read Any Good (Jewish) Books in 2012?

As you might imagine, all year long, I am in touch with scores of people who live and breathe books.  The recent end of the secular year is a convenient time marker for looking back at the last 12 months (and trust me, we will likely do it again at the end of the Jewish year as well!)

Ask  publishing professionals how books sell and gain in popularity, and a likely popular answer to your question will be  “word of mouth” (or it should be).  Readers talk about books, tell their friends, their students, and their fellow readers.  I decided to check in with some people I respect to see what their “word of mouth” is on Jewish books for 2012.  These are just a few of the people who often write about books and who I enjoy reading and communicating with. I asked them which books did they read in 2012 that they found enjoyable or meaningful. Choices were not limited to books published in 2012 and simply needed be “Jewish”. I must admit I am also thrilled that a few titles are titles by current or former clients.

Thanks to the busy people who responded to my request.  You will note that every one of the respondents is “busy”. And yet….they read!  This is an optimistic, good lesson for all of us.

Please feel free to add your choices in the comments section. I’d appreciate hearing what you have been reading and enjoying.

I have divided the responses received  into two posts segments.  The first follows below……


Elana Sztokman

Executive Director of  The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), writer of interesting articles and author of the  recently published book The Men’s Section. I  enjoy reading her writing. I find it hard to not read everything she writes even when I don’t agree because she addresses important issues so well. She seems to make sure every serious thought is considered.  I know she is “just” a tad busy so I am excited to include Elana here.

“a very compelling work of Jewish scholarship that is both academic and spiritually engaging.”

“loved this book, about a haredi young woman in the early 20th century Jerusalem who is torn between art and religion,      beautiful writing, captivating story about women learning to set their passions free, a story that still resonates today for a lot of women, not only religious women.”

“an acutely original analysis of Jewish life that opens up the idea that feminism is a vital concept essential to Judaism, especially feminism in Israel, and that this feminism has the ability to “liberate” Judaism and transform it into the compassion-filled expression of the divine spirit that it’s meant to be.”

“a sad, inspiring and profound journey to death by the inimitable and sorely missed Debbie Masel.”



Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink  currently serves as the Rabbi at the Pacific Jewish Center. That’s the Shul on the beach in Venice California. He is the author of the blog, His blog is super interesting and the debate it creates may be even more interesting.  His writing is always worth the investment of reading. He is a prolific online thinker and writer and busy currently studying for the bar, so I appreciate Rabbi Fink sharing his choices here.

“I only have three books that I recommend. Aleppo Codex (By, Matti Friedman) and Religion for Atheists (By, Alain De Botton) and  Rabbi Lamm’s  new Derahsot Ledorot.”



Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a professor of Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School and the Founding Editor of renowned which is one of the most worthwhile Jewish online efforts that exist.  Their discussions consistently set off scores of debates and thoughtful responses around the Jewish world. His writing and commentary are respected and read by so many  and it is exciting and an honor to host him here.

“Let’s start with Torah:

I could never count how many wonderful Torah texts I use in the course of a year. I can point to three newer acquisitions that either left a large impression, or were game-changers:

  • Hamafteach, the index to Shas toiled at for many years by Daniel Retter (and recently translated into English), was the game-changer, making it much easier to retrieve information from the gemara.
  • For years, I have had a weakness for the works of a contemporary talmid chacham, R. Yechiel Mechel Dzimitrovsky, and his breathtaking commentaries on difficult works that are the bread and butter of serious lomdus. I wouldn’t think of learning the Ketzos HaChoshen or the Nesivos HaMishpat without his editions. This year, I picked up a work he didn’t do solo, but in collaboration with a team of talmidei chachamim. This new edition of Urim V’Tumim (by R Yonoson Eybeschutz) made that important work accessible to me while I had often shied away from it in the past.
  • My son-in-law sent me a sefer that blew me away for a solid month.  Beis Shaar, by R Michoel Borenstein, gathered and elucidated the writings of the Ari and other mekubalim on the month of Tishrei. This is not easy material, but the author has a gift for taking apart difficult material (at least to those with some background in kabbalah-lite) step by step and making it comprehensible. It became a mainstay of my Tishrei presentations.

Now, lehavdil, for the non-Torah

  • I read three works on the history of the modern State of Israel. Two were classics that I had never read cover to cover before: O, Jerusalem, and Six Days of War.  The third, The Prime Ministers by Yehuda Avner is a new work, the fascinating recollections of a religiously observant advisor to five Israeli prime ministers. What all three have in common is that they left me with an even more profound sense of awe regarding the Divine Providence that created and maintains the State of Israel.
  • For many years, Mitchell Bard’s Myths and Facts was the standard reference work for English speakers who were fighting the hasbara battles on their own. It was well organized, easy to use, and gave you the ammunition you needed to counter the fallacious arguments of the Dark Side. Bard recognized the need for an even simpler work that told the Israeli narrative from an unapologetically pro-Israel position without sacrificing accuracy. Israel Matters is written for young people, and it will quickly become the book that we hand out to friends to whom we wish to convey Israel’s story in short form. I believe that many adults will use it, at least those who will admit that they aren’t comfortable with their knowledge of the key figures and events in the past and present of Israel.
  • I am in the process of reading Rebels in the Holy Land by Sam Finkel, the fascinating story of an early agricultural settlement composed entirely of observant farmers. Their battle to uphold shemitah in its fullest designation presaged battles to come for the soul of the new yishuv. The graphic arrangement is beautiful, and the rich variety of photos and illustrations increase the interest of the reader.
  • It has been many years since the last time I read a novel. There just isn’t time for me to read fiction. I made an exception this year, and don’t regret it. I didn’t discover anything new in Hush by Judy Brown, but it packs an emotional wallop that makes it easy to justify the occasional inaccuracy. When so many of our communities are still dragging their feet rather than implementing strong measures to prevent abuse, this book strengthens a reader’s resolve to rid ourselves of a deadly plague.”


Are Ultra Orthodox Jews Influencing Israeli Film?

Nothing beats a good book. But a great movie can come close, no? Some recent movies from Israel, made by Orthodox Jews have been getting some real buzz (and probably some awards as well).

I came upon this thoughtful article about the portrayal of religion in Israeli movies recently. The author states:  “it is already clear that 2012 will be remembered as the year in which Israeli movies finally found God.”

He makes a comparison to a similar recent trend in Israeli popular music  “It is as likely to find a love song to The Lord topping the pop charts these days as it is to find a love song to a girl.”

Read the article:




Hush….. a book (and video) about abuse reminds us of the power & value of books

Remember a book that you read which had serious impact on how you felt about something? Well….add Hush to your list.

When I asked some Jewish media thinkers & writers which books they really enjoyed reading in 2012 (this list to be postedhere soon), Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein wrote to me explaining that one of the books he read, Hush  “packs an emotional wallop that makes it easy to justify the occasional inaccuracy. When so many of our communities are still dragging their feet rather than implementing strong measures to prevent abuse, this book strengthens a reader’s resolve to rid ourselves of a deadly plague.”

I came upon a video of Judy Brown, the author of Hush speaking at a conference of Orthodox Jewish mental health professionals. After watching it, I want to share it here.  Her talk reminded me of the power of books and how they can affect the reader, the author and the world (yes, really).


Author Judy Brown speaking at Nefesh Conference




Important thoughts from author Sherri Mandell…….10 ways to help Newtown’s grieving families: from a mother who knows

The Blessing of a Broken Heart (Toby Press) by Sherri Mandell  is the heartbreaking story of Sherri’s life during and after the murder of her son Koby by Palestinian terrorists. The book touched thousands and continues to do so. It was a winner of the National Jewish Book Award in 2004. I had the honor of being the publicist for this book when it was released.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Sherri has shared some thoughts in The Times of Israel on how to be of assistance to the mourning families.  While working with Sherri I quickly learned that she is a wise woman and her ideas are worth reading and sharing.

A few excerpts:

“The grieving families no doubt are receiving a lot of help right now. But eventually that help will go away. The families will be left alone. Stay with them for the long run.”

“I would give anything not to have learned the vital importance of loving words, helpful deeds and the embrace of community. But I hope my experience can provide guidance that will help ease the pain of others.”

“Keep calling. Don’t tell the person that they should call you if they need you. You are responsible for calling them. You are there to support them. Don’t expect anything back from them.”

“Don’t ask them if they need anything. Say, I will be by on Monday to take you to the doctor or to bring you a meal or to help you with the wash.”


No Joke. This looks likes a “must have” book for Chanukah.

No jokes. Inside Chanukah by Aryeh Pinchas Strickoff seems like a “must have” book for Chanukah. (Full disclosure…the publisher is a client but… I go through this book I am enjoying it more & more. We are beyond publicity here folks).

So if you want to say something interesting at the family Chanukah party (office party, whatever). Or just to know more about the holiday  – this book is your answer.

It literally has everything on Chanukah. Did I say everything?  At first I thought it was actually too much info. But I am realizing that what the author told me is true……one can peruse the book for a few minutes and come away with something valuable.

Why do we eat certain foods? There are three pages just on sufganiyot (donuts) and another two pages on latkes.

Why do we give money to kids on Chanukah? A nice explanation the author brings from the Belzer Rebbe is that by giving money to kids, we are making it easier to give money to the poor discreetly – since money is being handed out pretty widely, who knows who is actually poor?

A look at some original Roman or Jewish texts on Chanukah.

Intricate legal and philosophical discussions on which way the menorah ought to be lit.

And…if something doesn’t grab me…I skip it. There is so much else to read.

I saw this book in all the usual Judaica stores & of course you can still get it delivered in time to learn something new about this Chanukah if you order online (plus, Feldheim has a nice 20% off sale on right now).


A Helpful Seminar from the Jewish Book Council

Yesterday I was a guest at the Jewish Writers Seminar: Writing for Adult Readers held by the Jewish Book Council in NYC.

I have attended all sorts of seminars, workshops and publishing universities over the years. This JBC event was one of the useful events.  The panels included agents, editors, authors and publicists.  The information shared was, for the most part, the information I find so many authors need. I wish more authors were able to hear this information before they set out on their publishing journey.

The audience was made up of authors, some published and some not yet published. They asked good questions & the answers were usually spot on. There was very little fluff (OK, there was some….we are dealing with publishing here folks!).

Some helpful info:

– be part of a writing community, connect with other authors from your genre. Don’t be alone.

– Be an expert in the subject you are writing on: start speaking publicly and writing for the media on your topic, and don’t wait until your book is out to do it!


Gaza Conflict Hits US Jewish Publisher

Israeli websites have been getting hit non-stop by cyber warfare as part of the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Now, it appears, the cyber warfare has come to US shores.  According to a post on Facebook, NY based publisher, Menucha Publishing’s website was attacked yesterday, apparently by anti-Israel cyber warriors. The website was shut down all day.


Doing Social Media in Person at the KOSHER FOOD BLOGGER CONFERENCE

Meeting up with Jamie Geller & Levana Kirschenbaum. Two authors I have enjoyed working with.
Meeting up with Jamie Geller & Levana Kirschenbaum. Two authors I have been privileged to work with.

We are in touch all the time. Email, Facebook, Twitter….whatever. But to meet in person? Who ever heard of….

The Kosher Food Blogger Conference this week in NY was just that. It was social media the way we used to do it – meeting, schmoozing…even trading business cards (very quaint, I know). I am a bit old school….having every statement tweeted is still something I am getting used to (although I was tweeting a mile a minute).

Bottom line: It really was exciting to meet up with Kosher food bloggers and authors who I work with all the time & never see in person. The conference was a great mix of quality speakers who really had useful things to say, new ideas,  plus (of course) food.