September 2021: A new year, a story for our times, and the seven species

Dear friends,

Happy September, happy back-to-school, and happy Jewish new year to all who are celebrating! While parts of me are sad to say goodbye to the summer, other parts of me are grateful to get back to a normal schedule, or as normal as it can be in this month of holidays every few days. Scroll down for book recs, a new Lit Modiin event, some nice news for 2022, a recipe and more!


Brief writing update: I’m *still* plugging away at the same story/ending scene. I took a bit of a break on the story to revise an essay (fingers crossed that the editor who said she liked it and that I could submit a revision will accept it this time).


Looking for a Rosh Hashanah story? Read (or listen to me read) “Three Strikes” (from The Book of Jeremiah) on the Other Stories podcast.


Some nice news (x2) for 2022: The Book of Jeremiah was selected as one of the Women’s League Reads books for 2021-2022, and I’ll be giving a talk through American Jewish University (AJU)’s “B’Yachad Together” series about the book and chronicling the Jewish experience throughout the 20th century. Both of these are scheduled for March 2022, so stay tuned for more details!


And on a personal note - it’s been a bittersweet week in which we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary but have also been mourning the loss of Josh Mitnick, a veteran reporter from Tel Aviv, a huge mensch, and one of my oldest “writing” friends, back from when we were both editors at our respective college newspapers. You can read about Josh’s passion for conveying Israel’s complexity and beauty in a number of beautiful tributes such as this one by Dina Kraft.


Recommended Reads

It was a good month for reading, and I’m up to 56 books for the year, six ahead of my self-imposed Goodreads challenge. Here’s a list of all the books I’ve read thus far in 2021. This month’s recommendations:


Adults and Other Children by Miriam Cohen - This debut story collection, a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection, is indeed worthy of the accolades. It follows four women from childhood through adulthood and I enjoyed being surprised and sometimes shocked by their behavior, some of it horrible and vindictive, but also darkly humorous. As one reviewer put it, “the stories take us on a journey of familiar terrain…but in an unfamiliar and unflinchingly honest way” that helps the reader “see the world anew.” Miriam will be one of the authors appearing at October’s Lit Modiin event, and I’m looking forward to hearing her speak.


Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor - This short epistolary novel - originally published in Story magazine in 1938 - is a rediscovered classic that I only heard of about a year ago. It chronicles the spread of Nazism in Germany through a series of letters between a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco and his friend and business partner in Germany. The drama unfolds chillingly, as modern readers can imagine, but what’s remarkable about the book is how the author so clearly foretold what was to come. The book’s backstory and the author’s life are also fascinating, which you can read about in this recent essay by Erika Dreifus in The American Scholar.


Real Life by Brandon Taylor - This novel was a finalist for the Booker Prize and named a best book of the year by dozens of outlets, and I can see why. The story centers around Wallace, a black, queer graduate student at a Midwestern university town. Over the course of one weekend, there are a series of confrontations within Wallace’s colleagues and circle of friends, and the characters must come to terms with questions of whether it’s possible to overcome private wounds. I listened to the audio version of this book, and what I liked about it the most was the depth of feeling and insight into Wallace’s character and experience. A good one for book clubs.


See all the books I’ve recommended in this newsletter.


Story of the Month: The Great Escape

The Great Escape (Electric Literature) by Hilma Wolitzer. I’m going to embarrass myself here by admitting that I had no idea that Meg Wolitzer’s mother is a well-known novelist in her own right until last week. It’s not often that we read stories about protagonists who are nearly 90. The Great Escape speaks to our current moment, pandemic-wise, honing in on one marriage’s particular experience. Hilma Wolitzer (91) is coming out with a new story collection this fall called Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket, and I went and ordered it immediately.


Events

Due to the Jewish holidays, no events this month! The next Literary Modiin author event is scheduled for Sunday, October 3, at 20:00 Israel time / 1 pm Eastern and registration is already live. Please join me to hear from Miriam Cohen (Adults and Other Children - see above), Sarah Blake (The Guest Book) and Leah Scheier (The Last Words We Said). Register here!


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

As always, if you’re in a book club or know someone who is, I’d be happy to discuss The Book of Jeremiah with your group!


Prompt of the Month: On the precipice

Write a story in which your protagonist gets her/himself into a scary/heart-pounding kind of situation where the stakes are very high, and one false step could spell disaster.

Inspired by one of the hikes we took in Acadia National Park called “The Precipice,” a straight-up vertical climb that my kids scampered up and I took very slowly. When I finished the hike in one piece, I quipped that I should “bench gomel” (say the prayer after an illness or dangerous journey).




Recipe of the Month: Sheva Minim Salad

This sheva minim (שבע מינים - seven species) salad is perfect for Rosh Hashanah, Tu B’shvat or other holidays. The seven species refers to the seven agricultural fruits and grains mentioned in the Torah and native to Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates). I received the recipe from a friend in Modiin, probably 20 years ago, and I’ve been making it ever since. I’ll be serving the pareve (non-dairy) version on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, but I also encourage you to try a dairy version at some point.


4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced

¾ cup pearl barley

¾ cup – medium bulgur

1-3/4 to 2 cups – vegetable or pareve chicken broth

2 tsp. fresh or 1 tsp. dried thyme

1/3 cup dried figs – cut in thin slices

1/3 cup raisins

2 tsp. pomegranate syrup

2 TBSP white wine vinegar

2 tsp. honey

1/2 cup chopped dates

¼ cup chopped scallions

¼ cup chopped parsley

1/3 cup black olives, halved

½ cup feta (optional)

¼ cup pomegranate seeds for garnish

¼ cup toasted sliced almonds (optional)


Divide the onion in half and sauté in olive oil in two separate medium-sized pots. Stir for five minutes, and then add the barley and bulgur to each pot, along with the broth (divided), salt, pepper, and thyme. Bring to a boil, and then cover and cook on low heat until tender (the bulgur will be ready quickly, around 10 minutes, whereas the barley will take longer 30-40 minutes. Add more broth if liquid evaporates before the barley is cooked. Add the figs & raisins to one of the pots, cover and cook for another five minutes. Combine the two in a large bowl with the dressing (the pomegranate syrup, honey, vinegar, and a bit more olive oil). Add dates, scallions, parsley, and black olives, and then prior to serving, add the pomegranate seeds, feta (if using) and almonds, and mix gently.


It’s a bit of a patshke (fuss) but well worth it! Enjoy!


To all who are celebrating, may the new Jewish year of 5782 be filled with health, joy, peace, time with loved ones (and lots of good books, obviously).

See you next month with book recs, writing notes, recipes & more!