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February 2024: A literary solidarity mission, research rabbit holes, and what to do with kale

Dear friends,

It’s been another rough month here, with a few rays of light, though all of those have been on a smaller or personal scale. If you’re here for the regular dose of book recommendations, a new Literary Modiin event, a poem/story of the month, resources for writers, and the recipe, scroll on down.

Before I get to my regular intro & update from Israel, I’m excited to announce:

Witness: Writers Encounter Post Oct 7th Israel

This five-day (four-night) solidarity mission in mid-March may be the first-ever literary mission to Israel. It’s intended for readers and writers of all genres to bear witness to the Hamas atrocities on October 7th, to learn about the aftermath on Israeli society, and to lend their support in words and deeds. (My husband suggested the idea, and I decided to run with it, partly to give me something to look forward to).

Together with a number of writer friends here, I’ve been working on the concept, content, itinerary, etc. and the Fuchsberg Jerusalem Center (where my husband works) is running the logistics, pricing, etc.

You can see more details in the image below; the itinerary will include visits to southern community and with hostage families (though hopefully by March they will all be FORMER hostage families), volunteering, a number of meetings and panels with Israeli writers and those involved in the literary scene, a visit/tour to the brand new National Library and other relevant literary/artistic spaces, Shabbat in Jerusalem, and daily generative writing sessions (but not on Shabbat). I guess you could say it is part solidarity mission, part writing conference... To register, click here. We need a minimum of 15 participants to make this happen!!

A few things to note: 1) Participants are responsible for booking their own flights. It's possible to extend your trip. 2) There are no language requirements - the program will be in English. 3) The program on Shabbat will be slightly different than the other days (i.e. no writing sessions or travel). 4) Payment will be done separately through PayPal.

We've worked hard to get the prices down as much as possible, but if the cost is still prohibitive, I encourage you to reach out to your local Federation/synagogue/rabbi, etc. as they may be able to help subsidize your trip. I would love to see you here in March!

Update from Israel

In the past month, we marked 100 days since October 7th, since the massacre of 1,200 Israelis and others, 240 hostages taken into Gaza, the destruction of communities and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Israelis, the massive call up of the IDF reserves. At the time, 100 felt like an impossible number for the remaining 132 hostages, like something had to give, yet here we are now, day 118. It’s still unthinkable and horrific. And we had the horrible, sad, tense morning, a week and a half ago, when we learned that 21 soldiers had been killed in a day. I’m not going to waste my breath discussing the insanity at the ICJ or UNRWA because you can read about those things elsewhere.

I’ll share some observations from my little corner of the world. I’m happy to report that some of the reservists - who have been serving since Oct 7 - are being released (hooray!), though there’s a fear that they will be called back if things in the north heat up. The student-reservists who were released about two weeks ago are struggling to catch up after missing the first three weeks of university. Others who haven’t been released yet will probably lose the entire academic year. The “reentry” back to civilian life for these soldiers, students or non-students, is bumpy, as many of my friends whose kids were in Gaza are reporting. “He’s usually very loud and outgoing and funny, and he’s not the same,” said one. I don’t know details, but the army is trying to provide some processing/counseling services for those who’ve been released. Whether it’s enough, or whether the reservists - now rushing to catch up on their studies/restart their businesses/get back to their jobs or family - can take advantage of these services is unclear. While my friends are full of relief and gratitude that their kids are being released, they are also extremely worried about their kids’ mental state.

One friend’s son - still in his regular army service - is home for a few days now after not being home in eight weeks. For five of those weeks he wasn’t able to contact his parents at all. Another friend’s son, an officer who has lost many friends and fellow soldiers, will be home this Shabbat for the first time since Rosh Hashana. (My own son, not stationed in Gaza, seems to be doing okay).

There are thousands of wounded - many young men who have lost a leg, sometimes both. Today I heard of a volunteer initiative in which families can “adopt” a wounded soldier; I didn’t get the details, but this is not meant only for lone soldiers.

When I wake up in the middle of the night, I see the faces of the hostages, and it’s still unbearable. The latest reports seem to be cautiously optimistic about a deal, but I’ll believe it once the hostages are back on Israeli soil. We are desperate, desperate for some good news, so halavai (may it come to pass) that they will all be home soon. Please contact the White House every day with a quick message to reminder to bring them home!!

I feel the unity of Am Yisrael when I go to my weekly volunteering in the agricultural sector, where I meet all sorts of people from different walks of life. Other friends have found meaning and hope in their weekly cooking for soldiers or other volunteer work.

I get distressed when I read about actions taken by certain groups or politicians that seem counterproductive at best and destructive at worst. Unfortunately, we still have deep, deep divisions here.

Since I didn’t send out a mid-month report (I was waiting for the mission stuff to be finalized), I’ve got more readings below, but I’d like to point you to two things in particular.

  • Idan Amedi press conference: The Israeli celebrity (actor/singer, star of Fauda) led his unit in battle in Gaza for over 100 days until he was seriously wounded on Jan 8. He was rushed to hospital unconscious and unidentified. His press conference last week was incredibly moving. A true hero and mensch. You can read the full transcript and story over on Jeff Meshel’s blog, or watch a version with subtitles on YouTube. Or just listen to his music.

  • Shai Secunda’s interview with Ruby Namdar in the Jewish Review of Books: The Israeli-American author shares his analysis of the divergent paths of American and Israeli Jewry. Fascinating and insightful.

That’s it for now. May February bring the immediate return of all hostages, safety for our brave soldiers, healing for the wounded, and less suffering for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Writing Update from Me

I finished a first draft of my 1939 story, which I think is the final one for what will hopefully be a new novel-in-stories! I’ll still need to do a good deal of revising before sending it out, and by “sending it out,” I’m not sure yet if I mean query letters to agents, direct submissions to small publishers, individual story submissions to lit mags, or all of the above. Stay tuned…In the meantime, the One Story generative class was somewhat productive and I’ve started something new. I’ve barely written 1,000 words but I’m already waaaay down the rabbit research hole. At this very moment, I’ve got 11 tabs open on my browser with Paris Metro maps from 1930, sites and articles on the origins and history of a particular hospital, the website of Museum of Nurses and Children of Public Assistance...and I’ve just ordered a 500+ page nonfiction book on “everyday life in the heart of occupied France.” Wish me luck!

ICYMI: My recent essays - Seeing Green in Southern Israel (Moment) and It’s Too Much (Midstory). Apparently the latter was viewed tens of thousands of times, as per this note from the editor.

Recommended Reading

I’ve set my goal to 85 again this year, and at 6 books read in January, I’m one behind schedule. Here are this month’s recommendations:

North Woods by Daniel Mason: I started seeing this new novel show up on a lot of “Best of” year-end lists, so I got the audio version. It’s a novel about a single house in the woods of western Massachusetts, and all of its inhabitants - human and non-human - over centuries. From a Puritan colony to the modern day, the novel is filled with a cast of colorful characters including a pair of spinster sisters, a lovelorn painter, a crime reporter, an amateur historian, and others. As the description says, the novel “brims with love and madness, humor and hope.” I like this blurb from the San Francisco Chronicle: “With the expansiveness and immersive feeling of two-time Booker Prize nominee David Mitchell’s fiction (Cloud Atlas), the wicked creepiness of Edgar Allan Poe, and Mason’s bone-deep knowledge of and appreciation for the natural world that’s on par with that of Thoreau, North Woods fires on all cylinders.” The audio version is with a full cast - highly recommend!

Sarra Copia: A Locked-in Life by Nancy Ludmerer: I’d never heard of the real life figure of Sarra Copia and didn’t know much about the Jewish ghetto in 17th century Venice before reading this fascinating novella. Though confined to the ghetto for her entire life, Sarra was fortunate in that her father believed in education for his daughters. She studied classical Greek, Latin, and philosophy, after which she became a poet and intellect who ran a literary salon. She was often the only woman and only Jew in the room. Nancy has done an excellent job of bringing Sarra and her world to life. Listen to Nancy discuss her book at the first January Literary Modiin event. I was excited to hear that Nancy is committed to writing more novellas about little-known Jewish women from history, very cool!

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins: I finally read the much talked-about best-selling novel, and I can see why it did so well. The author has written a propulsive novel about one woman’s flight from a powerful drug cartel in Mexico. Lydia is living a comfortable middle-class life as a bookseller in Acapulco, but when her husband, a journalist, publishes a profile about a drug lord, their lives are forever changed. Lydia is forced to flee with her young son; their journey to “el norte” (the US) with other migrants is nothing short of harrowing. (Only thing: I’m not sure why she chose the title, as 95% of the book takes place in Mexico.) This is one that you might stay up until 3 am to finish.


After two great Literary Modiin events in January, already I’m excited for the next one.

Sunday, February 18 at 20:00 Israel time/1 pm Eastern. Join Literary Modiin to hear from Dina Kraft (MY FRIEND ANNE FRANK), Courtney Sender (IN OTHER LIFETIMES ALL I'VE LOST COMES BACK TO ME) and Michelle Cameron (BABYLON). Register here.

Poem of the Month: Love Song

Love Song by Amiram Cooper (Tel Aviv Review of Books). Composed especially for the 25th anniversary of the founding of Kibbutz Nir Oz in 1980, this poem was recently translated. Amiram, 84, is still a hostage in Gaza. I’d heard his name in the early days after October 7th, as one of the volunteers for Road to Recovery; I didn’t know until recently that he is a published poet. At the new and beautiful National Library of Israel, which I visited for the first time a few weeks ago, there’s a powerful exhibit called “Every Hostage Has a Story.” Amiram’s chair (bottom right) has his own book of poetry waiting for him.

I was struck by the thoughtful choices of titles - “Dreams of Happiness” for Noa Argamani; “Mom and Me” for Ariel Bibas, “Champions” for twins Gali and Ziv Berman, “A Return to Life” for Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Sadly, the chair next to Hersh is for Ran Gvili, whose death was announced yesterday by the Israel Police. We know now he was killed by Hamas on October 7 and his body was abducted to Gaza.

Resource of the Month: Publishing Confidential

For anyone who’d like to publish a book, Kathleen Schmidt’s newsletter is chock full of great information. She’s recently started a paid subscription, but there is still plenty of useful stuff and her analysis in the free posts.

Publishing Confidential

News and analysis about the book publishing industry that you won't read anywhere else.

By Kathleen Schmidt

Recipe of the Month: Cauliflower & Kale Salad

It’s been VERY rainy here, which means that for a few Fridays I haven’t been able to pick fruit or vegetables. Instead, I’ve gone to an herb packing place in Matzliah. Last week I helped pack 900 packages of tarragon, a few weeks before that, kale. The farmer sent us away with as many herbs and leafy things as we wanted. I had a beautiful-looking cauliflower at home, and I made up this simple and delicious recipe.

1 head of cauliflower

7-8 big leaves of kale

2 TBSP pine nuts

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Juice of one lemon


Chop the cauliflower and mix with lots of olive oil and kosher salt until it starts to brown. Roast it at a high temperature (~210 C/~400F), about 25 minutes. Chop the kale and add that to the baking sheet, along with the pine nuts. Remove from the oven after another 5 minutes when the kale is starting to crisp at the edges. Crumble feta over the top and squeeze the lemon juice directly onto the salad. Delicious!

More Reading on Israel

Shelter Tales (JBC) by Caroline Gold­berg Igra

Unhooked from phones, troops in Gaza turn to reading to pass time (Times of Israel) - an unscientific look at the books the soldiers are reading…

Holes (Necessary Stories/The Times of Israel) by Haim Watzman - Haim’s latest installment of his war stories.

I’ll leave you with pictures of a few beautiful things from my month. B’sorot tovot, may we hear good news soon.

Left side: More picking. This month it included oranges & clementines, grapefruit, and my true love, avocados. Middle: Spotted on my bike rides: rakefot & sunset over Modiin (top), kalaniyot on the southern hills. Right: An amazing Tu B’shvat seder that lifted my spirits, hosted by Sarah Sassoon and family. (PS If you come on the literary mission, you, too, will get to experience Sarah’s amazing hospitality when she hosts an evening with Sephardi/Mizrachi writers).


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