Jewish Short Stories: Reflections & Recommendations
Held for the first time entirely online, the recent Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) conference featured an array of superlative sessions. In one, during which veteran librarians shared tips for leading book clubs and similar groups, the subject of Jewish short stories came up.
For reasons that I cannot understand, some readers resist short stories. Happily, some groups and leaders nonetheless may select an entire collection for discussion. Others focus on a single story by one author for one session and move on to something that someone else wrote the next time.
To source their reading, plenty of book clubs routinely turn to the late, great Big Names: Grace Paley, Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer. But recently, librarians and other facilitators/instructors—and I include myself here—have introduced selections from or entire short-fiction collections by a new generation: Molly Antopol, David Bezmozgis, Rachel Hall, Margot Singer, Ayelet Tsabari, and many superbly talented others.
Some of this short-story conference discussion popped up anew last week on Facebook. Thanks to my own work as a writer, I’m aware that a great deal of excellent short fiction lives—temporarily or forever— uncollected in book form. Even better, if you’re seeking stories that you can share with your group/students via a simple link, much of this work exists online, in freely accessible form.
So I offered to compile for my librarian friends a list of Jewish short stories which, if they depend on book recommendations from library/publishing trade publications, they might not routinely encounter. And I’m sharing this with everyone.
I’ll begin by highlighting a few places where you’ll find an abundance of Jewish short stories gathered:
- Every month, Haim Watzman publishes a new story in The Times of Israel. You can check out a full archive on this site. (One of my recent favorites, “Tikun,” would be especially appropriate around the Shavuot holiday.)
- Some (but unfortunately, not all) of the stories that the short fiction contest administered by Moment magazine and the Karma Foundation have recognized are archived on the magazine’s website. (You’ll discover a couple of samples below.)
- You’ll also find an ample supply of short fiction over on JewishFiction.net (technically, some of the selections here are standalone excerpts from longer works). New issues appear several times during the year.
And below you’ll find 10 more Jewish short stories that I’ll share with you. It’s an idiosyncratic list, to be sure: These are all stories that I’ve enjoyed reading, teaching, and/or sharing. Again, I’m focusing here on stories that, to my knowledge, are a) not published in a full-length collection and b) currently available online.
- [Kathrine] Kressmann Taylor, “Address Unknown.” Call it a short story. Call it a novella. Whatever you do, read it. I am so grateful that, early in this spring’s lockdown, I learned about librarian Lisa Silverman’s online discussion of this story for the American Jewish University’s B’Yachad Together “Keep Calm and Read On” programming. It’s a stunning work of political fiction, first published by Story magazine in September 1938.
- Joan Leegant, “Beautiful Souls.” This story won the 2011 Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction from Colorado Review. Here’s its opening line: “They were two American girls, Abby and Jennifer, best friends, sixteen and not entirely naïve, wandering in the Arab shuk in Jerusalem’s Old City.” Leegant’s short-story collection, An Hour in Paradise, was published in 2003, and her novel Wherever You Go appeared in 2010.
- Shula Rosen, “The Invisible Chassidishe Maidel” (The Invisible Chassidic Girl). Published by Kenyon Review Online in 2013.
- Sam Apple, “The Butcher of Desire; or Imagining Philip Roth.” I read this one when it was published in Tablet magazine in 2015, and I shared some thoughts about it at the time.
- Dalia Betolin-Sherman, “Circle of Friends” (trans. Ilana Kurshan). In Israel, Betolin-Sherman’s work is widely recognized, but until a book is available in English, I’m limited to this translation, which appeared in 2015 in The Ilanot Review. Through its child-narrator perspective, the story depicts experiences of schoolchildren who, like Betolin-Sherman, are immigrants from Ethiopia.
- Jason K. Friedman, “Vanished Jews of Hetta.” Published after the release of Friedman’s debut collection (which I’ve also read), this story took second place in the Moment magazine-Karma Foundation contest in 2015; the magazine teases that in this story “a Manhattan publicist returns to his sleepy Southern hometown and attempts to revitalize its Jewish life.” (The publicist also happens to be gay; if you’re looking for a story that embodies some “intersectional” content, this may be an especially good choice.)
- Steven Volynets, “Turboatom.” With a Chernobyl backdrop, this story won the Moment magazine-Karma Foundation contest in 2016. An interview with the (then-Soviet) Ukraine-born author accompanies the story.
- Zeeva Bukai, “The Abandoning.” This story won the 2017 December magazine’s Curt Johnson Prose Award in Fiction. It served as my introduction to Bukai’s stories (thankfully, there are many!).
- Elizabeth Edelglass, “Neighboring Parts of This Planet.” This one, published by New Haven Review in 2018, is a little tricky to access: You need to go to the “issues” page of journal’s website, scroll down to Issue 22, and download the issue. You will find the story within. It’s worth the effort. (Edelglass, too, has published many stories—but I can’t seem to find them listed in one place. May I suggest that you turn to Google?)
- Omer Friedlander, “Operation Tamar.” I’ve only just discovered Friedlander’s work, but I’ve quickly become a fan. Set during the Six-Day War, “Operation Tamar” was published by The Common earlier this year. Friedlander is another writer who has published numerous short stories.
I hope that this post expands your pool of club/group readings. Please feel free to share, in comments, links to other Jewish short stories that you may have found fruitful in such settings.