Three Surprises for Maggie Anton

I don’t often run guest posts here on My Machberet, but I’ve admired Maggie Anton for such a long time–and she asked me so nicely!–that I had to agree to her request. I hope you’ll enjoy discovering “three surprising things” that she learned about Jewish history while researching her latest novel, Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter, which has been described as “a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.”

Maggie Anton is the award-winning author of historical fiction series “Rashi’s Daughters” and “Rav Hisda’s Daughter.” She is a Talmud scholar, with expertise in Jewish women’s history. Intrigued that the great Talmudic scholar Rashi had no sons, only daughters, Anton researched the family and decided to write novels about them. Thus one acclaimed trilogy was born, to be followed by National Jewish Book Award finalist, Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice.

Please welcome Maggie Anton.

Three Surprising Things I Learned About Jewish History While Researching ENCHANTRESS: A Novel of Rav Hisda’s Daughter

Guest Post by Maggie Anton

Before getting to what I learned, I will admit how little I knew. Although Talmud has been the source of Jewish law and traditions for over 1500 years, only a few scholars are familiar with the rabbinic community who produced it. I was aware that Rav Hisda’s daughter lived in fourth-century Babylonia while the Talmud was being created there. I was intrigued that when he asked her which of his two best students she wanted to marry, she then replied, “Both of them.” And when I found that she eventually did marry both men, I was determined to write her story. That’s when my research really started. (more…)

Tevye in Amherst: A Glimpse into the Great Jewish Books Program

I have known Hannah Elbaum literally since before she was born. Hannah’s mom and I have been fast friends since our freshman year in college; I was a bridesmaid in Hannah’s parents’ wedding; and I was among the first to hear that Hannah was on the way (and to meet newborn Hannah in the hospital).

So you can imagine how I began kvelling when I heard that Hannah had been accepted to the 2014 Great Jewish Books Summer Program for high school students at the National Yiddish Book Center. I asked Hannah if she would be kind enough to write up a guest post about her experience, in part because I wish I could attend the program myself. How I would love to spend an entire week in beautiful Amherst, Massachusetts, reading, discussing, and arguing about Jewish literature! When Hannah agreed to contribute her insights, I suggested that she might share with us a typical day in the program. She complied, and I’m delighted to present this glimpse into what was apparently a vibrant and memorable week.

Hannah Elbaum is a high school senior, eagerly awaiting the next chapter in her life. She was a Diller Teen Fellow of 2012-2013, and a Rising Voices Fellow of 2013-2014. Currently, she is the president of the senior youth group at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she has held a variety of leadership roles and is an active participant in the North American Federation of Temple Youth-Northeast Region.

Please welcome Hannah Elbaum! (more…)

Guest Post: Mark Shechner on Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories, by David Shrayer-Petrov

Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories. By David Shrayer-Petrov, edited by Maxim Shrayer. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. 262pp. $29.95.

Review by Mark Shechner

The present situation for Jewish writers and their readers bears little resemblance to the scene of just two decades ago. It has been so transformed as to be scarcely recognizable. If there is a prior state of affairs, however, in which our time can see itself in an historical mirror it would be the ferment of the early 20th century, the springtime of Jewish writing in America, when writers ambitious to speak for their culture and their moment commonly had at least two languages to choose from, Yiddish and English. We know that some even wrote in Hebrew, and who now remembers the names of those whose also wrote in Russian and Polish? Who recalls Dusk in the Catskills by Reuben Wallenrod, published in 1957? Wallenrod doesn’t appear in any of the standard histories. Nor will he any time soon. He wrote fiction in Hebrew.

The contemporary moment recycles history in this sense: much of it is fueled by émigrés from abroad who work in multiple languages: a handful still in their native tongues, but most in English, sometimes a decentered English under the tonal canopy of another language. The FSU (former Soviet Union) writers are the most remarkable cases in point. 2014 alone has seen the publication of books by Lara Vapnyar (The Scent of Pine), Anya Ulinich (Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel: A Graphic Novel), Gary Shteyngart (Little Failure: A Memoir), Boris Fishman (A Replacement Life), David Bezmozgis (The Betrayers), and David Shrayer-Petrov (Dinner with Stalin and Other Stories). And that is just a single year’s production. These writers are either themselves members of the refusenik generation that forced open the prison gates of the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s or their children. Wherever they settled, they brought with them their passion for the written word, their febrile imaginations, and their stories.

David Shrayer-Petrov, born in 1936, continues to write in Russian, though he has lived in the United States since 1987 where, besides writing, he has worked as a doctor. Though he has a reputation in Russian émigré circles, his name is little known in American discussions, even though Syracuse University Press has previously published two volumes of his fiction: Jonah and Sarah: Jewish Stories of Russia and America (2003) and Autumn in Yalta: A Novel and Three Stories (2006). Both books were edited by his son Maxim Shrayer, a professor at Boston College and himself a fiction writer: Yom Kippur in Amsterdam (Syracuse, 2012). (more…)

Guest Post: Behind the (Chap)Book (Plus, A Giveaway!)

I rarely feature guest posts here on Practicing Writing, but I’m making an exception for Chloe Yelena Miller, a writer I met back in 2004 when we were both attending the Prague Summer Program. We’ve stayed in touch since then (we even collaborated on a successful panel proposal for a conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs not too long ago). Chloe was also kind enough to host me back when Quiet Americans and I went on our virtual book tour.

Now, Chloe’s poetry chapbook, Unrest, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. I’ve had the good fortune to read it; I wondered about the chapbook’s “backstory” or unifying structure, and so I’ve invited Chloe to address those questions here.

Chloe’s work is published or forthcoming in Alimentum, The Cortland Review, Narrative Magazine, Poet’s Market, and Storyscape Literary Journal, among others. Her poetry was a finalist for Narrative Magazine’s Poetry Prize and the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. Chloe has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She worked on Lumina and later on The Literary Review and Portal del Sol. She has participated in the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Vermont Studio Center residency and the A Room of Her Own Writers’ Retreat.

Chloe teaches writing online at Fairleigh Dickinson University, George Mason University and privately, and leads writing workshops at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C. Contact her and read some of her work at

Please welcome Chloe Yelena Miller. (more…)

Yom HaShoah Reflections on Eva Hoffman’s AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE (A Guest Post by Ellen Cassedy)

As we approach Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), author Ellen Cassedy shares reflections on an influential book in this guest post.

Remembering the Holocaust with Eva Hoffman

by Ellen Cassedy

“What meanings does the Holocaust hold for us today – and how are we going to pass on those meanings to subsequent generations?” These are the questions Eva Hoffman poses in her courageous book, After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust.

Hoffman’s acclaimed memoir, Lost in Translation, recounts her emigration from Poland at age 13 with her parents, who were Holocaust survivors, and her struggles to adjust to her new home in Canada. Published 15 years later, in 2004, After Such Knowledge is less well-known, but it made a deep impression on me when I first read it. As we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’ve been rereading it and finding it as provocative and valuable as ever.

The book is a multi-faceted meditation. It draws on Hoffman’s personal experiences and those of other children of survivors; her extensive reading in the fields of psychology, culture, and politics; and her years of conversations with Poles and Germans of all ages.

I discovered the book at the exact moment that I myself was embarking on a journey to the Old World – to Lithuania, the land of my Jewish forebears. (more…)