Sunday, May 3, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social distancing, self-quarantine, isolation, etc. has challenged everyone on many levels. One of the few benefits of this time is catching up on reading.  Of course, I could go on about the virtues of reading and books, but 

That's the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet. 
-- Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

Reading Travels with Sushi in the Land of the Mind by Eduard Shyfrin (White Raven Publishing, 2019) was a little like being in The Matrix. While not usually a fan of fantasy, I was drawn into the story. Aaron and Stella enjoy spending summers at their grandparents' house by the seashore (or "Down the Shore," as we say in New Jersey). They play on the beach, and then the family goes to eat at their favorite sushi restaurant, where Mr. and Mrs. Ekaku, a polite Japanese couple, serve the sushi. They come to the table and ask Stella and Aaron, salmon sushi connoisseurs, to try a new delicacy that the chef created. It is the most delicious sushi they have ever tasted: "a thousand flavors seemed to burst from within the tiny golden parcels." They close their eyes to fully focus on enjoying the sushi, and when they open them....

The are in the Mushi Land of the Mind, where Salmon Mushi, the lead of the Mushi tribe enlists their help. They must find the Supreme Ruler's Book in a cave on Memory Mountain and return it to the people, which will destroy the power of the Black Queen.

What follows is a journey through different areas of Mushi Land, where Aaron and Stella make new friends, battle enemies, learn more about this history of Mushi Land, and try to complete their mission.

What is fascinating about this book, besides the journey/quest of the children, is how Jewish elements are interwoven into the story. The Supreme Ruler is, well, the Supreme Ruler, and there are snippets of Jewish history, quotes from the Mishnah and the Talmud, a discussion of the Sefirot, a lesson in Middos, and a certain tribe that "does not eat shrimp sushi."

Adding another layer, are the principles of physics and The Golden Ratio, explained in terms clear and simple enough for young readers. Albert Einstein makes an appearance to help the kids get through a wormhole.

Tomislav Tomic's amazing illustrations made the book that much more enjoyable. The detailed black and white drawings complemented the text perfectly.

©2009 White Raven Publishing. Used with permission.
If you enjoy fantasy, or if you want to expand your horizons and read something you wouldn't normally read, this is a great choice.

Answers to Scavenger Hunt

Last month, Life Is Like a Library went on a Literary Scavenger Hunt in Jerusalem.
Here are the answers:

Amos Street in the Magan Avraham Neighborhood
National Library of Israel
Tmol Shilshom
Poetry House
Rockefeller Museum
Sefer v'Sefel
S.Y. Agnon
Ethiopia Street
American Colony Hotel
Yehuda Amichai
Eveline de Rothschild School
Bnai Brith Library

And the Real Cats of Israel are still doing what they do best:

Happy Reading!

Friday, March 27, 2020

A Literary Scavenger Hunt in Jerusalem

For those of you who visit here regularly, you know that we at Life Is Like a Library are super fans of Israel ScaVentures and the Experiential Guidebook, as evidenced by how it much we love to talk about them:

The International Writers Festival 2018 (May 2018)

Yet Another Beautiful Day in Israel (December 2018)

Jerusalem Prizes (May 2019)

Today is founder, director, writer, and all-around neat woman Tali Kaplinski Tarlow's birthday. So, in honor of this auspicious day, and in appreciation for all the adventures I've had since I received a review copy of the Guidebook, here is

"A Literary Scavenger Hunt in Jerusalem" 
(Answers will be available in the next blog post.)

The author of A Tale of Love and Darkness grew up on the street that bears the same name he does.

This institution was established in 1892 and houses millions of items in many languages.

Stop for a coffee in this café named after a book. 

This location at Ma'aravim 9 is dedicated to a distinct literary form.

The Israeli Antiquities Authority Library is housed here. 

English readers looking for second-hand books flock to this store on Ya'avets (off Jaffa Road) whose name includes the Hebrew words for book and another item.

The house of this Nobel Prize Winner for Literature is near the American Embassy on a street with another author's original last name.

Although there is a street with his name, the father of Modern Hebrew lived on a street named after an African country.

In the courtyard of the Holman Hunt House on HaNeviim, there is a small house that was home to this iconic Israeli poet who was inspired by the view of the garden from the window:

Conspiracy of spring
a man awakes and through the window sees
a pear tree blossoming,
and instantly the mountain weighing on his heart
dissolves and disappears.

O you will understand! Is there a grieving man
who can hold on stubbornly
to a single flower that withered
in last year's autumn gale,
when spring consoles and with a smile
presents him with a giant wreath of flowers
at his very window?

T.E. Lawrence and John le Carre stayed at this landmark on Nablus Road that now houses a noted bookstore. 

Israel's greatest modern poet wrote two collections with Jerusalem in the title. 

Laura S. Schor's The Best School in Jerusalem is about this girls' school, currently located in Rehavia.

This building was erected in 1902 and originally housed "The Midrash Abarbanel Library and the Joseph Archives." It now shares its name with its location.

NOTE: This is a work-in-progress. Because of the current "matsav" (COVID-19 pandemic), I was not able to go to many of the places I hoped to visit. Hopefully there will be an update in the near future.

And finally, as you go on your hunt, look for these Real Cats of Jerusalem:

Happy Birthday Tali!
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Million Dreams Never Dreamed

There are times, and they become more frequent as the years go by, that I look at the world with quite a cynical eye and lament that I am becoming old and bitter.

Then, I read a book like Dreams Never Dreamed (Toby Press, 2020), and know that no one can read this book and remain a cynic. Its subtitle is "A Mother's Promise that Transformed Her Son's Breakthrough into a Beacon of Hope," and it is written by the father, Kalman Samuels.

I first became familiar with Shalva, the Israeli Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities because of the Shalva Band. A music therapist formed a band made up of "persons with disabilities," and the group almost made it to the finals of Eurovision.

And while Shalva Band sang about "A Million Dreams," Shalva itself started with a promise and a dream. Kalman and Malki Samuel's son Yossi was a healthy baby until he received a faulty DPT vaccine. His situation deteriorated until he was both deaf and blind. The Samuels moved from Israel to New York to find Yossi the resources he needed, and then back to Israel. Malki Samuels made a pact with God: "If You ever decide to help my Yossi, I will dedicate my life to helping so many other mothers of children with disabilities whom I know are crying with me for their children."

Yossi was later known as "the Heller Keller of Israel," as he learned to sign, read braille, and recognize the make and model of a car by its door handle. It was now time to make good on the pact, and Malki wanted to "create a center that will provide parents and families with what we never had -- a program that will care for their challenged children after school each day, giving the child therapy and a good time, and giving the family a chance to live a normal life."

Shalva started in an apartment in the Samuels' neighborhood, and eventually needed a bigger facility. Kalman Samuels did the the fundraising for the organization, travelling to meet donors and promote Shalva. Soon the demand for Shalva's services was so great, that it was time for a new facility.

With dedication to purpose and infinite patience and fortitude (the bureaucracy in Israel is mind boggling, and there were multiple lawsuits and injunctions against the proposed building), a gorgeous, huge facility was built with attention to every detail. It houses facilities for all kinds of therapies, a pool, a respite floor so children can stay over and parents can have a break, a library, a cafe that is open to the public, an employment workshop, and an emergency shelter for those with disabilities. The building is filled with color and art.

As and for Yossi? He met President George W. Bush, visited the Volvo factory in Sweden, and rode an elephant in Thailand. "He is blind, deaf, and cannot walk, but he never loses his zest for life, never ceases to dream new dreams and to make them happen."

As is often the case, fact is as unbelievable as fiction, and the book chronicles the story of an amazing family with incredible determination.  The Samuels have seven children, and they are all involved in Shalva (youngest child Sara plays guitar in the Shalva band). You will find yourself routing for Yossi and for Shalva throughout the book, and you will marvel at how so many dreams were realized.

As for the Real Cats of Israel, who knows what they are dreaming?

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Jewish Arts and Crafts

It's hard to believe three years have passed since we explored the joys of knitting and all the Jewish-related books, websites, and charity projects, when we "Knit One, Read Two." Here in Israel it is the rainy season, and when you're stuck in the house, nothing beats some art or crafting to occupy the time (and having something to show for it, too).

Obviously, I am a big fan of arts and crafts, especially when you can craft and do something else (like listening to an audio book) at the same time. I was thrilled when they did crafts at my mother's, a"h, senior facility; she was not so thrilled.

©Roz Chast, 2017, ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, used with permission.

One of my neighbors is quite the art expert, so we'll talk about her book, as well as suggest some other resources.

The Joy of Jewish Art for Children

Would you ever think a book about art and about creating art would not be filled with color pictures? Well, if you want young artists to use their imagination and enjoy the process, and to not focus on the end product and not worry about comparing it to the picture or to others' work, then it makes perfect sense.

Such is the genius and sensitivity of Devora Piha, author of The Joy of Jewish Art for Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (Mosaica Press, 2018). She is the art teacher who wish you had, passionate about art education, emphasizing process over product, and believing that art is not only for those who show "talent," but those who want to grow and create. Rather than putting a paper and crayons (of which she is not a big fan) in front of a child, she looks at skill building projects (repeitition, control, using shapes) and connecting to Judaism through art. We recently spoke about her book and her approach to art for children. The book developed and changed over twenty-five years as Devora expanded on ideas and created new projects.

Who is your intended audience?

It's for everyone, but especially for Jewish teachers (teaching all levels), parents that enjoy art and want to share it with their children, and for people who want to learn about Judaism through art.

What is your background?

Both my parents were artists, so I got a lot of encouragement and nurturing at home. I took art classes and went to art school, and now, if something interests me, I do a lot of research and experimentation to master the concept or technique.  Some things I feel intuitively, and when I do the research, I find that my intuition is right.

What is your approach to art?

Art has so many purposes and functions in our lives. It can be functional, educational, historical in terms of leaving a record for posterity. It is way to communicate and express emotions and thoughts. It is an outlet and a release. It is a combination of both technique and expression.

"Children grow through their art" (page 90), and "Art can be used an an amazing tool to help children improve their character and build their self-confidence" (page 102). It helps children develop patience and self-control. In my art classes, they are free to experiment and try new things and express themselves. They also learn how to work with mistakes, either incorporating them into a project, or adapting the project to the stray mark or splash of color. They learn to plan and organize their project, follow instructions, and trust themselves.

Obviously, they develop fine-motor skills, and they also learn about spatial relations and perspective.

What makes Jewish art special?

It's special because it comes from a spiritual source. It shows the beauty of God's creation and how we personally relate to it. It is "art that feeds the soul along with the eyes" (page 8).

Here are some examples:

Thank you to Devora Piha for taking the time to speak with me and share her thoughts and her art.

Hands-On Activities in Israel

If you are up in the Galilee, you can enjoy the meditative art of Saori weaving at the Tiferet HaYetsirah Studio in Yavne'el. Workshops are offered for all levels, and for families, and, based on personal experience, it is relatively easy to learn, fun, and relaxing.

If you are down south in the Negev, try the B7 Art Experience in Beer Sheva. Activities combine educational tours and workshops like a photography walk.



Jewish Threads: A Hands-On Guide to Stitching Spiritual Intention into Jewish Fabric Crafts by Diana Drew with Robert Grayson (Jewish Lights, 2011). My kind of book with techniques like quilting, applique, embroidery and cross-stitch and functional projects like challah covers and wall hangings, all with an emphasis on the creative process and "personal flair."

Easy and Economical Jewish Crafts by Susan Fishman Kramer (AuthorHouse, 2011). Projects designed to take thirty minutes with some preparation by the adult and some by the child, depending on the child's age. Full of good ideas that can be created in a school or home environment.

The Yaldah Year: Crafts & Recipes for Every Month of the Jewish Year by Leah Larson and Chavi Resnick (YM Books, 2009). Geared to pre-teen and teen girls, "each Jewish month features two recipes and a craft connected to that month, plus lots of interesting background information about the month."

Celebrating with Jewish Crafts by Rebeca Edid Ruzansky (self-published, 2008). Reviewers on Amazon have dubbed this "the best Jewish crafts book ever," and with the bold colorful photographs of projects that are relatively easy to make, it is a great resource. There are many ideas for holiday-related items as well as things like tzedakah boxes and plates. Thank you for techniques and templates.

Crafting Jewish: Fun Holiday Crafts and Party Ideas for the Whole Family by Rivka Koenig (Mesorah Publications, 2008). This book features "over 120 holiday and every day projects, each with step-by-step instruction; stunning full-color photos of every craft; distinctive ideas for holiday get-togethers -- many with delicious recipes; pictorial reference guide of crafting tools and buying guide; and full-size templates and comprehensive index." Critics note that there are a lot of recipes in a book about crafts, and that the crafts are geared for young children.

Kids Love Jewish Holiday Crafts by Tracy Agranoff (Simcha Media Group, 2000). Provides instructions for making decorations and gifts for the Jewish Holidays and the Sabbath.

The Jewish Holiday Craft Book by Kathy Ross (Millbrook Press, 1997). Kathy Ross is known for her themed crafts that use recyclables, and here she applies her talents to such projects as Jonah and the Whale Puppets, a kiddush cup, a spice box, and a wheel of months, also presented with clear, easy-to-follow instructions and illustrations.

Jewish Holiday Crafts for Little Hands by Ruth Esrig Brinn (Kar-Ben, 1993). Between six and sixteen crafts for each of the eleven holidays included, with concise and easy-to-follow instructions.


Pinterest has hundreds of pin for all kinds of Jewish crafts.

Creative Jewish Mom is packed with ideas for crafts including Holiday-themed craftsCrafts made from recyclables and Kids' Crafts.

Bim Bam "uses digital storytelling to spark connections to Judaism to learners of all ages." They offer "DIY Arts and Crafts Projects," including a recipe for "Jewish Slime" and "12 Amazing Purim Basket Hacks (more comedic than crafty)," all available as YouTube videos.

The Kveller website hosts a crafts page with links to projects.

AHC offers many, many holiday-related craft ideas.

More websites with Jewish crafts:

Joyfully Jewish

Our Jewish Homeschool Blog

Free Kids Crafts

Bible Belt Balabusta (the queen of Lego and Jewish crafts)

And for those who prefer kits, our friend's at Benny's (exit 159 off the Garden State Parkway) offer a variety of "Affordable Jewish Art Projects."

Just for the Mitzvah, aka, also offers kits, but they deal in wholesale. So if you are looking for a project for a school, party, or other large group, this is the place.

Finally, if you like crafts, but aren't so crafty yourself, go to Buy for Good and purchase some items "made by adults and children with disabilities or from underprivileged communities in Israel through educational and vocational programs."

And, at The Real Cats of Israel, Jojo is doing some quality control on a baby blanket I knit:

Happy Reading and Happy Crafting!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Pirkei Hallel

On June 30, 2016, thirteen-year-old Hallel Ariel, may God avenge her blood, was brutally murdered. An Arab terrorist infiltrated her Kiryat Arba community, entered her home, and stabbed her multiple times as she lay in her bed, sleeping in after a dance recital the night before. A horrible and horrifying tragedy, the loss of this beautiful girl created a void for her family and the world as well.

Amazingly, Hallel's mother  Rena emerged with strength and grace, determined to   perpetuate her daughter's memory. Several project were undertaken, including monthly visits to the Temple Mount, naming a wine from their winery, Ariel B'Yehuda, "Hallel" and encouraging people to make blessing over the wine in memory of Hallel, and most recently, a book for bat mitzvah girls that mothers (and grandmothers) and daughters (and granddaughters) can use to learn about important aspects of Jewish life, and about themselves.

As her mother says in an introductory note, "Hallel was a beautiful and happy child, with a smile that lit up the room. She was quiet, with inner strength and a well-developed sense of justice. She possessed genuine modesty and humility, maturity and seriousness. At the same time, like every child, she was playful and knew how to have a good time."

The book is a tribute to this special girl, and the twelves chapters (one for each month of the year prior to bat mitzvah) help girls to develop these traits through "Chesed," "Prayer," "Gratitude," "Beauty and Modesty," and more. The chapters do not have to be read in order, and they are full of questions to answer, activities, and lessons in Jewish learning. The book can also serve as a basis for more questions, activities and learning, but most importantly, as a special time for a mother and daughter to share together.

While many young people take on Chesed projects for their bar or bat mitzvah and learn what they will be doing the day of the celebration in the synagogue, I love the idea of focused study and really making the time leading up to this milestone a journey of getting to know oneself.

Originally published in Hebrew, the book is now available online in English.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Open House in Jerusalem

Open House is architectural event that takes place annually in Jerusalem. For three days,  free tours are offered of interesting and historical private homes, public buildings, and private collections. While many of the tours are on Saturday or on Friday before the first Sabbath after the clocks have changed, on Thursday I was able to visit some places which have interested me.

Tabor House

Tabor House was designed by architect Conrad Schick and built from 1882-1889. He lived there with his family until his death in 1901. Schick designed other famous buildings in Jerusalem including Hansen House, the Mea Shearim neighborhood (now inhabited by ultra-Orthodox Jews), the Ethiopian Church and St. Paul's Anglican Chapel and the German Deaconess Hospital (which are now part of the Bikur Cholim Hospital).

Full disclosure: I was most interested in the libraries, which were allegedly closed for renovation. The tour was given in Hebrew, and while the guide was excellent, I did not have a big interest in the architectural detail of the buildings. It is a very pretty house, and the courtyards add to its charm.

Rockefeller Library

Touted at the most important archaeology library in the Middle East, the library of the Israel Antiquities Authority is housed in the Rockefeller Museum. Named after its benefactor, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the museum was built in the 1930's and is "part of the legacy of the British Mandate period." 

The library's collection includes books in many languages, and the librarian showed several books from the 1700's and 1800's with large pullouts of ancient cities like Constantinople (now Istanbul) and Aleppo, Syria (now destroyed by civil war). I enjoyed some of the features of the library; the old card catalog is still in the middle of the floor; there is a dumb waiter to move books to and from the downstairs stacks; and there are still bullet holes in the walls from the Six-Day War.

Extra care was taken in finishing the library. The floor is made of special materials to absorb noise, so you can't hear people walking around. The tables and chairs are all very smooth. All the shelves are bolted into the floor and walls, so that when they was an earthquake, nothing fell off the shelves. The cabinets with heavy books have rollers on the shelves, so the books can be removed easily. 

All in all, a very interesting and informative day.

Friday, October 25, 2019

An Unorthodox Interview with Naomi Ragen

I have been a fan of Naomi Ragen for many years. With the publication of her eleventh novel, An Unorthodox Match (St. Martin's Press, 2019), I finally worked up the nerve to contact her and ask her the questions I've been thinking about as I read her other ten novels. 

Her latest book is about Leah, formerly known as Lola, who has embraced Orthodox Judaism and moved to the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her mother, who had abandoned the strictures of religion as a young woman, is very critical of Leah's choice. And the neighborhood only accepts Leah up to a point - definitely not to marry one of their own. The book explores both the good and the bad about living in an insular community, and (SMALL SPOILER), the book ends happily, but not without the foreshadowing of future challenges for Leah.

Since Naomi is currently touring in the United States, we exchanged questions and answers via email:

As they say on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, many of your works are "ripped from the headlines." Jephte's Daughter (Warner Books, 1998), Sotah (St. Martin's Press, 1992), The Sacrifice of Tamar (Crown Books, 1994), The Tenth Song (St. Martin's Press, 2010), and The Devil in Jerusalem (St. Martin's Press, 2015) are all based on real-life stories. I know you asked people for their real-life experiences when you wrote An Unorthodox Match. Is the book based on someone's specific experience, or a conglomerate of the responses you received? Are any of your own experiences included in the book?

I myself came from a non-observant family, but was sent to a Hebrew Day School when I entered second grade. So the idea of a Ba'alat Teshuva is one with which I have a great deal of experience. But because my experiences happened to me when I was a child and my character is an adult when she becomes observant, I wanted to talk to others who became observant as adults. Leah is a conglomerate of all I know and all I've learned from others.

I loved Leah's mother Cheryl as the "very interesting" "devil's advocate." Is she based on a real character? Do you fell her message came through despite or because of her quirky personality and life choices?

I wanted Cheryl to serve the function of a Greek chorus. She is the one who says what many readers are thinking when they hear Leah's story. She is also a conglomerate of many secular parents whose children become observant about whom I've read and I have met. The details of her life are totally imagined.

There is a strong sense of place in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Did you live there or travel there to do the research?

I attended the Sarah Schenirer Teachers' Seminary in Borough Park when I was eighteen and lived there for close to a year. I also visit Manhattan almost every year, so I know it well.

An Unorthodox Match is being touted as your first book about those who choose to become more religious. It seems like Leah/Lola gets pretty much the same treatment other characters in your novels have gotten when they don't conform to the norms of the community. Did you find a difference between the newly religious versus non-conformists within the community as far as how they are treated? It seemed like people were somewhat accepting of the match between Leah and Yaacov because he was a widower who had cut back on his learning to get a real job, sort of moving from the "A" list to the "C list." Thoughts?

I don't agree that they accepted the match, because the way ba'ale teshuva are treated is pretty harsh and unfair. But what motivates me are stories of injustice, so you are right that there is a common thread in all my books about Haredim -- the idea that the world which should be striving for good is undermined by very human faults that need to be acknowledged and accepted.

Critics are rather harsh in saying you have "a bone to pick" with the Orthodox Jewish community and "air dirty laundry" by publishing with a secular imprint. From my perspective, I think you point out the incongruity between what the Torah dictates and how people behave. Two questions: How do you respond to these critics, and why is this social criticism in all your novels?

My novels are a mirror -- an honest and loving reflection of the religious world as I experience it. If they don't like what they see, don't complain to the mirror, change the face.

[In answering this question, Naomi reminded me of Rose in The Sisters Weiss. Known, and criticized for her photographs of the Haredi community, "her defense had been simple. 'I'm a mirror,' she'd said in response. 'If you don't like your face, change it, Don't complain to the mirror. I show what's there. You created your world, I just document.'"]

And continuing from above, orthodox imprints used to only publish stories about "perfect" families. They have evolved somewhat, and they are now publishing books about people with "issues." What do you think of this, and would you consider publishing with an orthodox imprint?

I think my books pioneered a way forward when Feldheim and Targum were writing fairy tales about all the perfect tzaddikim in their perfect world. Frum Jews were not used to reading the truth, and now they are, so the religious publishers are catching up with their readership. That's great, but I am happy where I am. When I started writing, no religious publisher would touch my books. Everything was strictly censored, and it still is.

I read Devil in Jerusalem (about a charismatic cult leader who convinces a woman to abuse her children - again based on a true story), and while it was a riveting read, it was so sad, I kind of wish I hadn't read it. When the real story appeared in the news, people were horrified. What compelled you to write this story?

I felt it was a very vital and important story. There are so many predators around the watering holes of religious piety and hundreds of religious cults in Israel. Religious people are often naive, and backdoor idol worship, with amulets, holy men, etc., is very common today. The book is hard to read, and it was very hard to write, but necessary.

On your website, I noticed comments from people who don't like your politics, so they are not going to buy your book. Is "cancel culture" a new phenomenon for you? (Of course, there were people who like your politics and are buying two books!)

We live in an age of intolerance and ignorance. I'm not going to be intimidated.

I loved The Saturday Wife (St. Martin's Press, 2008), which is based on Madame Bovary. Can your fans look forward to any more contemporary books based on classics? 

Who knows what the future will bring? My books choose me, not the other way around. 

What is your next project?

A sequel to An Unorthodox Match.

Thanks to Naomi Ragen for answering my questions so thoughtfully. Instead of the Real Cats of Israel, we have The Real Naomi Ragen:

Happy Reading!