Thursday, September 12, 2019

Jewish Book Carnival - September 2019

Welcome to the Jewish Book Carnival, a monthly event where bloggers who blog about Jewish books can meet, read and comment on each others’ posts.

The purposes of the Jewish Book Carnival are to build community among bloggers who feature Jewish books on their blogs, and to promote Jewish reading, and fields supporting this reading such as publishing and library services.

It's September, which means back to school, back to a "regular" schedule, and time to think about the upcoming Jewish holidays.  Here's what our bloggers have been reading:
  • "Honour thy father and thy mother." At A Jewish Grandmother, Batya Medad reviews 
  • The Lost Kitchen, Miriam Green's story of how she and her father cope with her mother's
  •  Alzheimer's Disease.  More than just the saga of dealing with Miriam's mother's 
  • increasing dementia, The Lost Kitchen is also a cookbook and includes poetry.

On her My Machberet blog, Erika Dreifus recently posted a list of 12 Jewish books, new for 
this fall, that are on her radar, including Birthright - Erika's collection of poetry, which 
will be coming out in November.

The Book of Life Podcast shares an interview with Sadaf Siddique of the South Asian kidlit 
site Kitaab World, about her Counter Islamophobia Through Stories campaign. Listen for 
the parallels with AJL's Love Your Neighbor campaign to fight anti-Semitism through kidlit! 

The Association of Jewish Libraries has posted a new book list: 
Selected Holocaust Literature for Youthpulled from the 200+ titles recognized 
by the Sydney Taylor Book Award over the years. 

Amalia Hoffman, whose The Brave Cyclist, about Righteous Gentile and champion

bicycle racer Gino Bartali was recently published (Capstone, 2019), reviews Susan 
Dubin's Katzele and the Silver Candlesticks (Armani the Cat Publishing, 2019). 

Gila Green is happy to share her interview with Rachel Barenbaum with you. Her debut 
novel, A Bend in the Stars, was a New York Times Summer Reading Selection and 
a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. It is also a Boston Globe Bestseller. 

Talia Carner's The Third Daughter (HarperCollins, 2019), was inspired by a story by 
Sholem Aleichem. Read Part I of her essay for the Jewish Book Council

From author/artist Ann Koffsky, coloring pages using the same designs from her book 
Creation Colors (Apples & Honey Press, 2019). Great for Rosh Hashanah!

At Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Deborah interviewed Debbie Levy about Levy's new 
children's picture book, The Key from Spain: Flory Jagoda and Her Music.

In the run-up to the Rosh HaShana, you can find a book-based pamphlet of
Reflections and Resources on Teshuvah on the Memory & Redemption site. While the 
questions for discussion are drawn from one of the darkest periods of Jewish history, 
they prove the transformative power of hope for the future.

And, at Life Is Like a Library, it's the annual Elul book list.

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!



Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Elul 5779

Things I Learned from Reading Books That Are Now on my New Year's "Resolution" List:
  • There's more to almost everything than meets the eye (the Art of Revelation)
  • Look for Joy and Open Your Eyes to Life's Possibilities (Julie and Julia)
  • Your job is to be as you as you can be (You Are a Badass)
  • Character development is a life-long process (Everyday Holiness)
Art of Revelation: A Visual Encounter with the Jewish Bible by Yoram Raanan (paintings) and Meira Raanan (commentary and explorations) (Raanan Art Ltd., 2018). When you pick up this book, and it will require some effort because it is quite hefty, you will be stuck by the beautiful artwork and how it relates to each weekly Torah reading through images, texture and color. Then you read the commentary and explorations and realize there is even more in these paintings once it is pointed out. You would think that pretty much covers "there's more to this than meets the eye." But Yoram's story and the back story of this book are also incredible. In November of 2016, a fire caused by an arson attack destroyed Yoram's studio and over 40 years of artwork, included 160 parshah-related paintings. Many of the photographs in the book were "casually captured by a hand-held camera," but the vibrancy comes through. 

"Lech Lecha" from The Art of Revelation by Yoram Raanan. Used with permission.

As Yoram tells it, "After the fire, in some ways, I'm back to where I started. I've begun painting again, but with new colors, as if it's forced me to begin from somewhere new and unfamiliar, as if I have to rediscover not only my paintings but my very sense of place. It isn't easy beginning again, but the new beginning has opened up new pathways for me, and the greatness of my loss has instilled in me a new sense of urgency. I feel like my new work is more authentic, that I am taking greater chances. I want it to be more meaningful now."

So besides learning about the parsha, and art, I see that through devastating loss we can grow and use the experience to become better at what we do and who we are.

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell (Little Brown and Company, 2005) chronicles a year of cooking everything in Julia Child's classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume I). Julie Powell is turning thirty, has a secretarial job at a government agency, and lives in "an outer borough" of New York City. She takes on this project, and it changes her life in many ways, besides gaining weight from all the butter and lard she is using in the cooking. Powell has a great sense of humor. I thought of my mother, a"h, when Powell started making aspics. Apparently they were all the rage in the 1960's, as my mother had her famous Tomato Aspic, the sight of which nauseated me. So I commend Powell for not only cooking these complicated and sometimes dated recipes, but also eating things like eggs in aspic and lots of organ meats.

So what is the message for Elul? Well, she stuck to something for a year, which enabled her to quit her day job, improved her confidence, and helped prove to herself her capabilities.  More than that, as she concludes, "Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It's not what I thought it was. I thought it was all about -- I don't know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no questions. But there's something else, something that these things grow out of. It's joy."

Julie "thought she was using the cookbook to learn to cook French food, but really she was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility."

I love reading a book, then watching the movie, and seeing how they differ. The movie is very different than the book because it also tells Julia Child's story, and, as Julie Powell said in an interview, "there are no maggots" (You will have to read the book to appreciate that one). But it was very sweet and full of love (and much less cursing), so I enjoyed it very much.

If Jen Sincero cannot convince you that You Are a Badass (Running Press, 2013), no one can. She is funny, insightful and practical. Some may love the title; others may be off put by it, but if it offends your delicate sensitivities, wrap it in brown paper so you can focus on the contents. There are interesting stories and lists to get you motivated. I am sometimes ambivalent about "life coaching" because many practitioners use a lot of acronyms and affirmations, and it can sometimes feel like you're listening to someone who did not make the cheerleading squad and is now the person you pay to "rah-rah" for you (my mini-rant is over). That said, Jen's approach is straightforward, and although she does suggest using affirmation, she is quick to caution that you must find ones that you can say to yourself in the mirror with a straight face and believe. It is also important that you want whatever you want passionately and are willing to work hard to get it. Making friends with money is another big part of Jen's approach, as is being willing to fail. But you're never really failing if you are being your authentic self -- just gathering information on the road to success.

Mussar has been defined as an "ethical, educational, and cultural movement that developed in 19th century Lithuania" (Wikipedia); and as a "spiritual practice that gives concrete instructions on how to live a meaningful and ethical life" (My Jewish Learning). Alan Morinis looks at eighteen soul traits in Everyday Holiness (Trumpeter, 2007).  Through focus and intention, one can master these traits. Drawing from many Jewish sources and personal experience, Morinis encourages the reader to embark on this spiritual journey by looking at positive characteristics. For example, if someone tends to be messy, he should not berate himself for being inadequate, but look for ways to create order, and reward himself when he does. Morinis quotes all the Mussar luminaries (Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, and more), and his organized and clear presentation highlights their teachings. He also offers a schedule for working on these traits: four 13-week cycles, which takes a year to complete. 

As for the Real Cats of Israel, they are enjoying the beautiful September weather:

Happy Reading, and may you be inscribed and sealed for a good year!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sad Days

The three weeks between the fast days of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av are also known as the time "between the straits" (bein haMitzarim). Jews mourn the destruction of both Temples, as well as other calamities that have befallen the Jewish people. During this period, the customs include not making wedding celebrations, not listening to live music, and not cutting hair. From the 1st of Av to the 9th of Av, things get a little more stringent, with limited bathing and no needlework. Between a sensitive nose and no crafts, it is a particularly challenging time, but it also gives a small taste of the sadness over the destruction of the Temples.

Thursday (August 8th) was a particularly sad day: Two precious souls were taken much too soon. I cannot articulate my sadness, so I borrow the words of Sandy Cash:
(used with permission)

Two pure souls met on the ascent.
“I never thought it would be so soon,” said one, whose name was the foundation stone of the holy Temple.
“I will always be grateful it wasn’t sooner,” said the other, whose name was Love and Faith.

They rise, Shabbat descends. A one-day respite from Tisha B’Av—our mourning for so many losses.
On a Foundation of Love and with Faith, may we increase holiness in the world.
Dvir Sorek, z"l, a 19-year-old student, was stabbed to death by a terrorist, and buried last night.
Last night, Ahava Emunah Lange, a wife and mother who inspired the world with her courageous, 7-year battle against ovarian cancer, died last night.

Holocaust Non-Fiction
I already felt like I was under a dark cloud because I've been reading personal accounts of the Holocaust. When the book sites ask for a rating, I can't say I really liked these books or enjoyed reading them.  But I learned a lot, and they definitely set the tone for these sad days.

To Vanquish the Dragon (Feldheim, 1991)
Pearl Benisch's life in Krakow before the war was a happy one. She had a large loving family, she had attended Bais Yaacov and absorbed all the lessons, and her family had a profitable thread factory. Then everything changed. While poignant and heart wrenching, her story is inspiring as well. She and her schoolmates upheld the principles they had learned and applied them every day -- helping each other, sharing meager food rations, caring for the sick, and trying to keep everyone's hope highs. She eventually achieved her dream of living in the Land of Israel.

Somewhere There Is Still a Sun (Aladdin, 2015)

Michael Gruenbaum enjoyed his life in Prague and loved going walking with his father, whether to synagogue or to the King of Railroads train store. The memoir is effective because it is narrated from a child's point of view (Michael was eight when the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia). He is upset by all the rules, mostly because he cannot go to the park and play soccer. His father is taken away by the Gestapo, and weeks later they hear of his demise. Michael and his mother and sister are deported to Terezin, where Michael plays soccer and performs in the opera Brundibar. The family survives and eventually moves to the United States, where Michael graduates from MIT and Yale. While there are some graphic details (carts filled with corpses), much of the horror is tempered by the child's perspective of not knowing all the details.

Unfinished Diary: Chronicle of Tears (Israel Bookshop, 2015)

During his time in hiding (September 1942 - June 1944), Chaim Yitzchok Wolgelernter, hy"d, began writing a memoir. More than a diary or daily log, he would quote from the Torah and add his perspective on the events around him. As he heard of family members and noted rabbis that had been murdered, he wrote beautiful liturgical poems (kinot) using the letters of their names to start the verses. After successful eluding the Nazis (and Poles) for two years, his group separated, and his sent his writings ahead with his brother. Chaim Yitzchok and seven others were shot and killed not far from where they were hiding. Heartbreaking and tragic, the book illustrates how families were torn apart, how every day was a struggle to survive, and what enormous potential was never fulfilled. It also testifies that only did the Poles know what was happening, their profited from the Jews' misery at every turn. The book was particularly sad to read on Tisha B'Av because Wolgelernter talks about the fast day and how his family's experience so mirrors the words of Jeremiah: "Large and small will die in this land; they will not be buried and no one will eulogize them...No one will break bread for their bereavement to comfort them about the dead...about their father and mother..."(16:6-7). The translators and editors did an excellent job, and the maps inside the front and back covers made the family's travels much easier to follow and understand.

Out of the Depths (Sterling, 2011)
Israel Meir Lau's memoir isn't as dark as some of the other books. First of all, he was eight years old when he was liberated from Buchenwald. While Rabbi Lau does have memories (trains, dogs, boots), much of what he knows about his experiences were related to him by others. He credits his brother Naphtali over and over again for saving his life so that he could carry on the rabbinic tradition of the Lau family. His book is not only about the Holocaust, but life in the nascent State of Israel, and a career that led to the Chief Rabbinate (Ashkenazi) of Israel. Traveling around the world to fulfill some of his rabbinic duties, he was able to find the daughters of the Russian soldier that protected him in Buchenwald, as well as other survivors who remembered his family from Poland.

This Real Cat of Israel found a napping shot in a garden:

Meaningful Reading!!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Letters from Israel

So many lament that with the advent of the internet and things like Twitter and Instagram, the art of letter writing is in serious trouble. We won't even talk about the lack of thank you letters, which is fertile ground for an entire tirade. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, for those who love the written word, a letter is a form of it that can be filled with news, or chatty banter, or serious reflection, or expressions of love, sympathy or support. So even in the age of email, when I see something in my inbox from a certain friend with the subject "Catching Up," I am excited to find out what is going on in her part of the world and her opinions about everything from music to books to politics. 

There were noted pen pals like Catherine the Great and Voltaire and Edith Wharton and Henry James, and Brain Pickings offers five books of famous correspondence "that shed new light on the hearts and minds of cultural icons" like Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. 

Maria Popova says it so well:
What is it about letters that speaks to us so powerfully, intrigues us so seductively? Letters in general have a way of revealing as much about the subject matter as they do about the author and the recipient, but when they offer slivers of the lives, loves, and longings of those we hold in high regard, they hold a whole different kind of appeal. 

Especially pertinent at this time of the year, some of the most famous "Letters from Israel" are those written by Yoni Netanyahu (brother of Bibi), who lead the Entebbe operation and was killed during its execution on July 4, 1976. Published by Gefen in 2001, the book is "a collection of personal letters penned by Netanyahu over a period of thirteen years, from high school in Philadelphia to the raid at Entebbe." It includes a forward by Herman Wouk, who asserts that the letters are "A remarkable work of literature, possibly one of the great documents of our time."

This month, we look at some more recent publications:

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor

Yossi Klein Halevi is "an American-born writer living in Israel." Perhaps that it part of the affinity for his writing, but moreover, it is because it is so good. Already a huge fan of Like Dreamers (Harper Perennial, 2014), I knew I would want to read whatever else he published. His latest book (Harper Perennial, 2019) "endeavors to untangle the ideological and emotional knot that has define the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly a century," which is just a monster tangle to untangle.

In many ways I enjoyed the book. His writing style is so simple and clear, but so intelligent. He makes his points about Jewish history and commitment to Israel respectfully and without being preachy or accusatory: "We're trapped in what may be called a 'cycle of denial.' Your side denies my people's legitimacy, my right to self-determination, and my side prevents your people from achieving national sovereignty. The cycle of denial defines our shared existence, an impossible intimacy of violence, suppression, age, despair. This is the cycle we can only break together." As a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute, "a leader center of Jewish thought and education," Yossi spends much of his time in dialog and interacting with other thinkers and educators. Don't get me wrong; this is a good thing. It will take a long time to change the hearts and mind of those on both sides, and it is a tremendous start.

The newly released paperback edition includes an epilogue of "Palestinian responses." Klein Halevi received many letters, quite a few not fit for publication, and the ones at the back of the book are interesting and informative.

If I were to write Yossi a letter, I would say in focusing on what can be done in the present and not lingering on the past,  you do not reflect on a big contributor to the current situation: British (and European) colonialism, which after World War I chopped up the Ottoman Empire into pieces. On the one hand issuing the Balfour Declaration and on the other the 1939 White Paper, trying to placate both Jews and Arabs and failing miserably. (The Kurds are not so happy with that slicing and dicing, either.) I would point out while Israel has made the painful concessions of continuing negotiations despite terror attacks (which were allegedly renounced in the 1993 Letters of Mutual Recognition) and disengaging from Gaza, what are the painful concessions the other side has made? If they indeed "love this land in it wholeness," why are they currently sending incendiary balloons that are destroying the land? It's also interesting that Israel and Jerusalem and the Temple are mentioned so many times in Jewish texts and prayers, while the Palestinians have kept the keys to the houses in which they once lived. 

Armed with Spirit

The subtitle of this recent book (Gefen Publishing, 2019) is "A Father's Advice to His Son in the Israeli Army Based on the Weekly Torah Portions." Rabbi Shalom Hammer is a senior lecturer for Machane Meshutaf and the Jewish Identity Branch of the IDF and the founder of Makom Meshutaf, "offering nondenominational Jewish programming for secular kibbutzim and moshavim throughout Israel."

When Yakov was drafted as a combat soldier into a brigade of mostly nonobservant young people, Rabbi Hammer knew his son would face religious challenges, so every single day, Rabbi Hammer WhatsApped his son an inspirational dvar Torah based on the weekly Torah reading.  First of all, I love parsha books. I enjoy a quick read that focuses on a verse or theme in the weekly Torah reading. Second, if you are writing letters or charting a correspondence over a period of time, it's important to have dates to put the information in context. Third, if you are quoting from Jewish texts, especially the Midrash, include references. 

Obviously if a father is texting is son, there will be plenty of advice and quite a few "I love you and I'm proud of you"s.  But what comes through is the mutual respect between father and son, and some great Torah thoughts, from both Rabbi Hammer and his son. I particularly enjoyed the entry for Purim that talked about clothing - the Kohain's garments, Queen Esther's royal garments and the uniform an Israeli soldier wears. 

And finally, Real Cats of Israel Toxy and JoJo are doing what they do best:

Happy Reading!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Booked in Jerusalem

I'm been spending a lot of time in Jerusalem this month, and every visit yields something new and interesting.

Poetry in Motion

The Israeli Association of Writers in English (IAWE) hosted a launch party for the publication of the latest volume of their annual literary journal:  arc 26. Edited by Shawn Edrei, the works explore "Love in a Time of Conflict." I accompanied poetess Judy Belsky to hear her and many of the other contributors read their works -- some published in the journal, others preferring to share other poems. Some took the theme very literally, combining violence and sex. Others offered more nuanced selections, and one man read his sonnets, which were very clever.

The launch took place on the roof of the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem. I have passed it many times on the bus, but I had never been inside. Definitely suited to young travelers, it is full of energy. While the poetry reading took place in one corner, hostel guests were socializing by the bar on the other side of the roof. It was a beautiful night to sit under the stars and experience culture in Jerusalem.

Forever My Jerusalem

One of the greatest things about living in Israel is going to historic places. Even more special is meeting people who have experienced the history first hand. I had the honor of meeting Puah Shteiner, the author of Forever My Jerusalem (Feldheim, 1987). Her book chronicles her life in Jerusalem before, during and after the War of Liberation. She was a young girl at the time, but her vivid recollections make for fascinating reading. Her family lived in the Old City, in the Batei Machse. She played it what was a big open area. When the Israelis surrendered, they were expelled from their homes with the clothes on their backs, and her father was held as a POW for nine months. No more spoilers - this book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of Israel.

Then, to visit the places she describes in the book - now rebuilt and reoccupied by Jews, was amazing. Batei Machse is now a public school, and the open area is now a courtyard surrounded by apartments. Even though I read the book twice, listening to Mrs. Shteiner tell her story made it that much more real. Her fondness for the memories and her love of Jerusalem were evident.

Batei Machse - where Puah Shteiner lived from 1945-1948. It is now a school.
This month's Real Cat of Israel is, of course, a Real Cat of Jerusalem, who was lounging on a step in the old city:

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Jewish Book Carnival - May 2019

Welcome to the May 2019 Jewish Book Carnival -- a selection of book reviews; interviews with authors, publishers, librarians and others about Jewish books; and essays about Jewish books and literature. 

The purposes of the Jewish Book Carnival are to build community among bloggers who feature Jewish books in their posts and to promote Jewish reading, and fields supporting this reading such as publishing and library services.

This month's selections:

The Book of Life Podcast features an interview with author Jonathan Auxier about about Sweep: The Story of a Girl and her Monster. The book introduces us to Nan, a chimney climber, and her golem friend Charlie, a creature made of soot. This middle grade novel won the 2019 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Jewish children’s books, along with numerous other literary awards.

Over on gilagreenwrites, Gila is thrilled this month to welcome Tara Lynn Masih to her blog where she interviews her about her new young adult novel My Real Name is Hanna that takes place during the Holocaust in the Ukraine.

On Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, Deborah interviewed poet Sarah Stern about her latest collection, We Have Been Lucky in the Midst of Misfortune

Barbara Krasner at The Whole Megillah reveals the results of a survey among writers, editors, and publishers about "Why We Write Holocaust Books for Young Readers" in commemoration of Yom HaShoah.

On her My Machberet blog, Erika Dreifus routinely compiles news of Jewish literary interest. Here's one recent post.

Life Is Like a Library found two prizes in Jerusalem: Joyce Carol Oates receiving the Jerusalem Prize, and the riches of a Machane Yehuda scavenger hunt.

Over on, Myrtle Rising reviews One in a Generation, an expose of the case against Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who came to be known as the 'Fugitive Rabbi' - and draws a surprising conclusion.

Finally, a call to all librarians, teachers, publishers, authors, illustrators, agents, booksellers, book bloggers, reviewers, and others involved professionally with Jewish kidlit!:

 There is now a Facebook group especially for you: Jewish Kidlit Mavens. Please join us at


Jerusalem Prizes

I attended the the opening event of the Jerusalem International Writers Festival on Sunday, May 12th.  Mayor Moshe Leon presented the Israel Prize to American author Joyce Carol Oates for lifetime achievement in the Humanities. She has authored over 58 novels, as well as poems, short stories, plays and novellas. Her books have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and she has won the National Book Award and two O. Henry Awards. Full disclosure: Of all her works, I have only read We Were the Mulvaneys because it was a pick for Oprah's Book Club, and even though it was sad, I enjoyed it because of the nuanced characters, the family dynamic, and the sense of place in Upstate New York.

So,  a day in Jerusalem is always special for me. As I rode from the Central Bus Station to the YMCA, there  was a petite blonde girl in an army uniform with a big musical instrument case on her back. She got off at the same stop I did, but she walked much faster than I did to wherever she was going. To my surprise (and delight), she was the cello player in the string quartet that introduced the evening. Just another example of what a small world it is and how I feel so connected to my fellow citizens. 

On to the opening ceremony. After a lot of thanks and recognition of dignitaries, which took even longer because there were in Hebrew and in English, the chair of the selection committee explained the criteria for the award and why Joyce Carol Oates is such a worthy recipient. The Jerusalem Prize is awarded every two years to international writers "whose body of work assert 'The Freedom of the Individual in Society'," and in her acceptance speech, Oates proclaimed that "without freedom, there is no art." 

She also spoke of her paternal grandmother, who bought her books, paid for piano lessons, bought her a typewriter, and took her to get a library card. After her grandmother died, Oates learned that she was Jewish and basically erased that part of her life. Oates' 2007 novel, The Gravediggers' Daughter, is based on her grandmother's life and  "her family history that was filled with pockets of silence."

The evening included a tribute to Amoz Oz, the noted Israeli author who died in December of 2018. Oates is also a fan of his, and quoted from Oz's 2002 memoir A Tale of Love and Darkness:

"When I was little, my ambition was to grow up to be a book. Not a writer. People can be killed like ants. Writers are not hard to kill either. But not books: however systematically you try to destroy them, there is always a chance that a copy will survive and continue to enjoy a shelf-life in some corner on an out-of-the-way library somehwere in Reykjavik, Valladolid or Vancouver."

And here is one of my favorites:

"While it was true that books could change with the years just as much as people could, the difference was that whereas people would always drop you when they could no longer get any advantage or pleasure or interest or at least a good feeling from you, a book would never abandon you. Naturally you sometimes dropped them, maybe for several years, or even forever. But they, even if you betrayed them, would never turn their backs on you: they would go on waiting for you silently and humbly on their shelf. They would wait for ten years. They wouldn't complain. One night, when you suddenly needed a book, even at three in the morning, even if it was a book you had abandoned and erased from your heart for years and years, it would never disappoint you, it would come down from its shelf and keep you company in your moment of need. It would not try to get its own back or make excuses or ask itself if it was worth its while or if you deserved it or if you still suited each other, it would come at once as soon as you asked. A book would never let you down."

In Search of Another Prize

I've been having a lot of fun with  ScaVentures Jerusalem: The Experiential Guidebook by Tali Kaplinski Tarlow. Whether hanging out by the windmill (May 2018), or giving myself a mini-mission as I pass through the Machane Yehuda Market (December 2018), I've seen things I don't normally look for, and by doing so, learn more about Jerusalem and Israel.

But my best and most exciting experience was at the beginning of the month when I joined a group of "influencers" to test the "app" of the ScaVentures Guide to Machane Yehuda, better known as "the Shuk Dash." Tali split us into teams and gave us a brief history of the area. In the early 20th century, it was an open field where Arab merchants sold their produce out of crates.  The field was owned by the wealthy Valero family, of Spanish descent, and it was originally called the Valero Market.

Chaim Aharon Valero (1845-1923)
As its popularity grew, the merchants set up huts. After World War I, the British rebuilt the area, and it is that market that we go to today. Armed with a tablet and a map, the teams went off to meet people shopping and selling goods in the market, find different items, and have fun. Lots of sumptuous pastries, piles of interesting spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, and fish are just some of the items on your grocery list that can be found in the market. Alas, there is no bookstore, but you can go to the barber, and there are many, many places to eat serving all kinds of food. 

The beauty of "touring" the shuk this way is that it is experiential. Whether you are holding a raw fish or searching to find the green wall, you are interacting with all kinds of people, really looking around the area, and using the strengths of your team to complete the missions. At first I thought, "How can I spend two hours in the market?" But as the clock ticked down, and we had to return to base, I reflected that I could probably use another hour, and I would still not see all there was to see. 

So here's a shameless plug (on my part, no Tali's) for Israel ScaVentures:

Israel ScaVentures

Shuk Dash

And of course, as Spring has sprung, the Real Cats of Israel are also out and about. This feisty little kitten is trying her paws at soccer:

Happy Reading!