I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging for Rosh Hashanah. Here’s wishing you all a very sweet and happy New Year.
(And if you happen to be looking for some reading ideas, check out my article on “Noteworthy Books for the New Year” in the Jewish Journal.)
Last Thursday evening I had the great pleasure of celebrating the publication of On Bittersweet Place, a novel by Ronna Wineberg, at a lovely book party on the West Side of Manhattan.
I’ve known Ronna for years. I interviewed her when her short-story collection was published. She helped shepherd one of my short stories along the route to publication in Bellevue Literary Review. And one of her cousins is a dear friend of one of my cousins—which makes Ronna and me practically family!
So I was honored to be asked to contribute a “blurb” for On Bittersweet Place, which relocates the typical Jewish-American immigration story from New York to Chicago. After reading the galley last spring, here’s what I wrote: “In the pages of Ronna Wineberg’s On Bittersweet Place, one finds echoes of Anzia Yezierska and Betty Smith; in the fictional story of Lena Czernitski’s immigrant family in the first quarter of the 20th century the reader recovers a piece of our larger American history. Quite impressive.”
You’ll surely be hearing more about this lovely novel soon. For starters, you might want to read this new Q&A with Ronna on the wonderful Bloom website. Read through to the end, and you’ll see a link to a book excerpt, too.
“‘Israel-themed sermons this year should help people understand what Israel is up against in its confrontation with Hamas — which is not about borders or settlements or who’s at fault for peace talk going nowhere, but about Israel’s very existence, which Hamas seeks to eradicate, and Jews everywhere, whom Hamas aspires to exterminate,’ Rabbi Block told The Jewish Week in an email. ‘Rabbis have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to sermonize about the “other Israel,” the vibrant democracy whose culture of compassion and innovation is contributing so much to the world.’
But underscoring the complexity of the issue, Rabbi Block, in a sermon this spring to his Central Conference colleagues, said: ‘Israel needs many things, but one thing it does not need is more public criticism, which is ubiquitous. Some of it is legitimate, but it lacks context. Much of it is exaggerated, unfair, uninformed or plainly wrong.
‘I am not suggesting that we pretend Israel is perfect, ignore the complex moral challenges it faces, disregard its occasional failures or excesses in the exercise of power or encourage unquestioning approval of whatever its government does,’ the rabbi continued. ‘We have precious few opportunities to address our entire congregation or community on matters of paramount concern. To me, it feels unconsciously self-indulgent to squander them criticizing Israel, even when it may be deserved.'”
–Rabbi Richard Block, quoted in “Gaza War Pushes Israel, Reluctantly, Onto Holiday Bima” (The Jewish Week)
In the new (fall) issue of the Jewish Review of Books, I respond to a piece published in the summer issue.
My response begins:
“As an avid reader of novels and short stories, and as the author of a story collection myself, I am always pleased to see fiction discussed within the JRB’s pages. But in the case of Amy Newman Smith’s “Killer Backdrop” (Summer 2014), my initial pleasure was tempered by an increasing sense of discomfort.
In part, the trouble stemmed from my difficulty understanding the exact focus of Ms. Smith’s opprobrium. Does she object to all “new works of Holocaust fiction” because they are not nonfiction? Fair enough. Some people don’t ascribe any value to Holocaust-related fiction; I am not among them. But are there any examples of Holocaust-related fiction that might meet with Ms. Smith’s approval? Novels by the late ArnoŠt Lustig? Cynthia Ozick’s now-classic “The Shawl”?”
You can find the rest of my response–plus the original article and Amy Newman Smith’s response-to-my-response–on the JRB website.