Where has the month gone, and how is it almost Passover already? Before I get to the regular business at hand of books and literature, I’ll report that it’s been an extremely eventful, intense and anxiety-ridden month here in Israel, coming to a climax last week, though the struggle is far, far, far from being over. For those interested, there are a few links and pictures at the bottom of this newsletter. Scroll down for several book recs, a new Literary Modiin event, a story of the month, Passover recipes and more.
Brief writing update: I’m just about done with a first draft of my current story-in-progress, which makes it number nine for the new collection. Current word count of those nine stories is about 75K, already much longer than the 13 stories in The Book of Jeremiah, but I still have a great deal of revision ahead of me. I expect to write at least another one or two for this collection, and I hope I’ll get started on a new one this month.
In case you missed it last year, check out my creative nonfiction piece, “On Pesach, She” published in TC Jewfolk.
For those looking for fiction, if you haven’t already done so, I invite you to read “A Strong Hand and an Outstretched Arm,” the first story in The Book of Jeremiah, which takes place (partly) on Passover. (Click “Look Inside” above the image of the book cover to read the story for free. Or better yet, buy the whole book on Kindle or paperback :-)).
I’m up to 21 books for the year, on track for my Goodreads goal. I read a lot of ones this month, including all three books that will be featured at this month’s Literary Modiin event on April 23 (more on that below)!
Kantinka by Elizabeth Graver: Kantinka, which means “song” in Ladino, follows Rebecca Cohen, the author’s grandmother, in a multigenerational saga that explores displacement, endurance, disability and family. The story takes us from Rebecca’s childhood in Istanbul to her family’s relocation to Barcelona after having lost their wealth, through her failed first marriage, an arranged but passionate second marriage in Havana, and finally to New York, where - while raising several young children - she devotes herself to pushing her disabled and spirited stepdaughter, Luna, towards achievements everyone said were impossible. Much of the book was inspired by the stories told by the author’s grandmother, but as she puts it, it is more of a “duet between research and dreaming, history and imagination, my grandmother and myself.” The result is a terrific novel and I’m looking forward to hearing Elizabeth discuss it on April 23!
The Wandering Womb by S.L. Wisenberg: Written over the course of decades, the essays in this rich collection explore the author’s personal history and her experiences as a Jewish woman in the world, from her youth in Houston to her experiences traveling, as a journalist, as a breast cancer survivor, and much more. The best kind of books, IMHO, are those that get us to think deeply, and that is exactly what this astute collection does, along with humor and curiosity. I especially liked this blurb from David Toomey: “Each essay is a lens through which we are invited to view in Joycean detail the author’s deeply personal present, yet at the same time to ponder and to rethink larger worlds of history and cultures. It’s a collection that often is wry but never cynical, acutely learned and always alert to humor and wonder.” Reading the book, I immediately thought of several friends for whom I’d like to get copies. I’m looking forward to hearing Sandi discuss it on April 23!
Once We Were Home by Jennifer Rosner: Jennifer Rosner (The Yellow Bird Sings) has written (another) deeply moving account of children affected by the Holocaust. Her subject cuts close to home for me, as she tackles the subjects of children hidden by non-Jews and the complexity of their experiences for decades after the war. Ana and Oskar are siblings sent by their parents to a Polish couple who raise them as their own; after the war a woman from a Jewish reclamation organization seizes them to reconnect them with their roots. Roger is hidden in a French monastery and then dragged across the Pyrenees as the Church does not want to return him to his surviving Jewish aunt. Renata, a British post-graduate student on an archeological dig in Israel, tries to uncover the truth of why her mother fled Germany when she was little. Each tries to make lives for themselves despite their loss and haunted grief. I liked this blurb from The Boston Globe: “Rosner’s project in Once We Were Home transcends even her abundant storytelling gifts. Over time, Rosner’s characters find themselves at the vortex of complex legal, moral, and philosophical questions.” Reading these characters’ stories, I am even more grateful to the people running the abbey in France where my cousin was hidden, in that they did not try to baptize him or keep him from his family when the war was over (See my essay, For Czarna). I’m looking forward to hearing Jennifer discuss her excellent, moving novel on April 23!
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt: With everything going on, I needed a fun, feel-good but quirky listen for an audiobook. I’m so glad I chose this one. The novel tells the tale of Tova Sullivan, a recent widow, who works the night cleaning shift at an aquarium to keep busy, and her friendship with Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus (who, as the title suggests, is remarkably bright and partially narrates the story). Tova’s only son died in a mysterious boating accident years ago, and she is now contemplating her final years with no family to care for her. If you enjoy Kevin Wilson’s books, I think you’ll like this one. And it’s fitting that Kevin Wilson gave this blurb: “Remarkably Bright Creatures is a beautiful examination of how loneliness can be transformed, cracked open, with the slightest touch from another living thing. Shelby Van Pelt makes good on this wild conceit, somehow making me love a misanthropic octopus, but her writing is so finely tuned that it's a natural element of a larger story about family, about loss, and the electricity of something found.” The narrators (Marin Ireland and Michael Urie) are outstanding, so if you’re into audiobooks, definitely listen to this one!
Story of the Month: The Lake of Galilee
The Lake of Galilee (JewishFiction.Net) by Ephrat Huss: The narrator of this story stands in the Sea of Galilee during the Jacob’s Ladder folk music festival contemplating her relationship with Israel and whether she wants to stay or go. Though I’ve never been to the folk festival, nor do I contemplate leaving (despite our current and continuous troubles), this story is a nuanced portrait of life here. It resonated deeply with me. Kudos to the author!
P.S. It’s always a treat to see the new issue of JewishFiction.Net in my inbox and to read the many excellent stories included within. Check out the full issue here.
I’m very excited for the April Literary Modiin event on Sunday, April 23, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern! Join me to hear from Elizabeth Graver (Kantinka), Sandi Wisenberg (The Wandering Womb), and Jennifer Rosner (Once We Were Home)! Register here.
Plus: Register here to get a jump on the May event (on May 21, with Judy Labensohn, Aaron Hamburger and Jonathan Papernick).
Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Catch the recordings here.
Welcome to the end of the newsletter (almost), where you’re rewarded with a yummy recipe. Several this time! First, the non-traditional:
I Can’t Believe They’re Pesadic Cinnamon Buns
I’m upping my Passover baking game and you can too! The good thing about having a daughter who recently discovered she is celiac is that I’ve learned to cook and bake a lot of gluten-free items for her and for all of us. A few weeks ago, we attended a GF baking workshop with a woman named Gal who lives on a moshav near Gedera. Everything we made there — yeast cakes and pitot, mini pizzas and bourekas, laffot, challot and other rolls — was delicious, and the best part is that all of it can be made on Passover (if you eat kitniyot, that is). The first thing we tried on our own at home is the cinnamon buns and though the dough gets really sticky, the end result was delish. Dairy, of course.
250 grams (~1 1/2 cups) gluten-free flour (In Israel, כרגיל brand)
250 grams (~1 1/2 cups) gluten-free bread flour (In Israel, מולינו ירוק - Molino brand, green)
400 ml (~1 2/3 cups) warm milk
12 grams (2 1/2 tsp) dry yeast
10 grams baking powder
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
100 grams (1/2) butter, melted
5 grams (1 tsp) salt
(I don’t know about in the US but in Israel we can get all of the above kosher for Passover. Yes, even the yeast. Here’s an article about it in Hebrew if you’re interested.)
Mix everything except the butter, salt and eggs in the mixer. After a few minutes, add the other ingredients and mix for another 5 minutes until the dough is soft and sticky. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight.
200 grams (1 cup) softened butter
480 grams (~ 2 3/4 cups) brown sugar
2 TBSP cinnamon
Mix until smooth.
When the dough is ready, liberally spread cornstarch or potato flour over your hands, the surface, the rolling pin…the dough is quite sticky. Separate dough into four parts. Roll out each into a rectangle. Spread the filling over the rectangle, roll it up and then slice into pieces. Set each cinnamon roll next to each other in square baking pan. Mix an egg and brush a thin coat over the top of the rolls. Wait 30 minutes - 1 hour, and then bake at 180 C / 350 F for 40 minutes. When the cinnamon rolls come out, coat with a thin layer of sugar water (100 grams sugar, 120 grams boiling water).
Now the traditional: If you missed my Passover cookbook, which went out in my first-ever newsletter three years ago, download a copy here.
As promised, here’s a brief article by Daniel Gordis that resonated with me about the last two months in Israel, and a few pictures from last Monday.
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis What you just witnessed was one of the greatest weeks in Israel's history This is far from over. It could be very, very far from over. And I’m about to get on a plane for fourteen hours, so that by the time I land, things might well have changed. Perhaps dramatically. Still, I will go out on a limb, type this out very quickly with no time to proof it or to wait to see if things hold, and I will tell you what you have just see…
Israel is lush and green right now, beautiful flowers everywhere, so I’ll leave you with some highlights from my recent bike rides and a hike I took with my son just before he started his IDF service one week ago (another major event for us in the last month).
See you next month, with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more. In the meantime, happy reading and happy holidays!