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February 2021: riveting scenes, hope, and wildflowers

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Dear friends,

It’s been a wild and mostly wonderful month over here, despite the continued lockdown and a crazy-high number of COVID cases in Israel. As of this writing, about 1/3 of the population, including yours truly and three other members of my family, have had our first vaccinations, and the initial data is very positive. Wherever you are, I hope you’re staying healthy, warm, and enjoying the company of good books. Scroll down for book recommendations, a new Literary Modiin event, a recipe and more!

Brief writing update: I’m continuing to work through my novel draft, including interviewing people to give me better insight into my characters, reworking dozens of scenes and writing some new ones. One thing that’s helped me: a class I took last month on writing riveting scenes with Steve Almond. Your character must have a clearly defined goal in each scene, he said, and the scene should instigate further action. I’m forcing myself to answer these questions for every scene, which I hope will sharpen the narrative. I’m about 55% of the way through draft three, aiming to finish it by mid-March.

Some nice news: Ahead of a book event I’m doing for CHW-Montreal, I was featured in a video podcast and article in The Suburban, Quebec’s largest English weekly newspaper, along with some of CHW-Montreal’s other upcoming events. And on a personal note: we celebrated my daughter’s bat mitzvah in our backyard with a handful of people in adjacent backyards, and it was beautiful. This, despite the fact that my son tested positive for COVID two days before. Fortunately he had a very mild case and feels fine now. Plus, two days after the bat mitzvah, I started a new day job and it’s great, but looong hours. Like I said, it’s been a wild month!

Recommended Reads

I’m one book behind my self-imposed Goodreads challenge, for all of the reasons above. Here are my top recommendations this month:

Golem Girl by Riva Lehrer - Born with spina bifida, artist Riva Lehrer’s childhood was spent in and out of hospitals in the shadow of her overly-cautious mother, facing countless surgeries, mismanaged care, and the stigma of a society afraid of strange bodies. As an adult, she joins a group of artists and writers building Disability Culture and begins painting their portraits in an inventive and collaborative way. Each portrait becomes an act that transforms myths about bodies and ‘normalcy,’ forcing the artist, the subject and now us, the readers, to grapple with these questions. As David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) puts it: “Golem Girl is luminous; a profound portrait of the artist as a young—and mature—woman; an unflinching social history of disability over the last six decades; and a hymn to life, love, family, and spirit.” I couldn’t agree more, and was very excited to see that it’s a finalist for the NBCC award. Check out Riva talking about her book at Literary Modiin’s October event. Everyone should read this gorgeous book!

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi - By the first page of Yaa Gyasi’s newest book, I knew I was in extraordinarily capable hands. Gifty, a neuroscience doctoral student at Stanford, is trying to navigate the grief of losing her brother to addiction while also handling her mother’s debilitating depression. She is frightfully alone in her journey, but not afraid to ask big questions of faith and science. “A book of blazing brilliance” says Ron Charles of the Washington Post. Now that I’ve read it once, I want to reread it and analyze it for its craft. Highly recommended!

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross - The Lost Shtetl is a brilliantly-done thought experiment: what would happen if a small village in Poland is so remote that it is spared the Holocaust and all of the twentieth century? Max Gross delivers an imaginative, insightful story of colliding cultures that’s equal parts hilarious and sad. I was glad to see The Lost Shtetl just won a National Jewish Book Award in the book club category. Highly recommended! Check out Max discussing his book at the December Literary Modiin event.

Story of the Month: What is Possible in This, Our Year 2021

What is Possible in This, Our Year 2021 by Kendra Fortmeyer (Okay Donkey). I love the hope and optimism in this flash piece, and a month into the year and 11 months into this seemingly never-ending pandemic, I think we could all use some hope!

(Side note: Okay Donkey is one of my favorite online journals and I had a flash fiction story, Fount of Destruction, published there about two years ago).


I’ve got two of my own book events coming up this month and both are open to the public! My calendar is wide open after that, so if you’re in a book club or know someone who is, I’d love to Zoom in to discuss The Book of Jeremiah.

  • Wednesday, February 17, at noon Central time / 1 pm EST - I’ll be joining Temple Beth Israel of Skokie, IL, for a Lunch ‘n Learn session. Register here, and if you’re in the Chicago area, you can purchase a discounted copy of The Book of Jeremiah from the Temple office.

  • Monday, February 22, at 1 pm EST - I’ll be joining CHW-Montreal (aka Canadian Hadassah Wizo) for a book talk. This is a fundraiser for CHW, which supports Children, Healthcare & Women in Israel and Canada, so you can hear me speak AND support a great cause. Register here!

  • Sunday, February 28, at 8 pm Israel time / 1 pm EST - New! Literary! Modiin! event! I’m excited to hear from Lori Banov Kaufmann (Rebel Daughter), Jennifer Rosner (The Yellow Bird Sings), and L. Bordetsky-Williams (Forget Russia) Register here!

Missed any of our Literary Modiin events? Watch all of them here!

Monthly Writing Prompt: Wildflowers

‘Tis the season of gorgeous wildflowers here in Israel (note the background pic for the Lit Modiin event). Plus “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty is one of my all-time favorite songs and I start my “writing zone” playlist by listening to it. This month’s prompt: write a story about wildflowers, forests, or something in nature. Here are a few pics I took this past month in Ben Shemen Forest and the southern hills of Modiin to help you get started.

Recipe of the month: Breakfast Oatmeal

A chance conversation after my youngest daughter was born convinced me to stop eating a bowl of cereal every morning, even though it was one of the “healthy” kinds (Special K). Nowadays, it’s usually cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit, but this oatmeal recipe is perfect for a cold winter day. I think I made it up myself!

  • 1/2 cup quick oats

  • 1 cup water

  • 1/2 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced and chopped

  • 10-12 almonds, chopped

  • cinnamon

Prepare the oatmeal on the stove or microwave (usually about 1 minutes 20 seconds in the microwave), then add the apple, chopped almonds and sprinkle generously with cinnamon. Voila, a healthy breakfast!

Hope your 2021 is off to a good start, and see you next month with book recommendations, writing notes, recipes & more!


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