Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Another Literary Day in Israel

I recently traveled to Jerusalem and enjoyed two book and writing-related meetings.  It was a little sad to have to return home early and miss the goings on at the Jerusalem International Writers' Festival, which took place May 18th through the 23rd, and was "a week of conversations between Israeli and guest authors, panel discussion and workshops, literature and film including events for children and a celebration of the poet Yehuda Amichai, all hosted by Mishkenot Sha’ananim."

My first stop was at Tmol Shilshom, a favorite cafe located in a courtyard near Jaffa Road.
The "bookstore-cafe-restaurant" takes its name from a novel by Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon.  After a bracing cup of coffee,
it was time to work out at the Writing Gym.  Judy Labensohn served as trainer for this session, but she will be alternating with award-winning journalist Ilene Prusher in the weeks to come.  What is a Writing Gym?  It's where you give your imagination and your writing skills some exercise.  Judy provided three writing prompts, and the group considered each topic and wrote - either by hand or on a computer.  As someone who aspires to write, but never takes the time or gets sidetracked by the baskets of laundry, this was a welcome opportunity to get in the habit of writing something every day.  Some of the participants read their work, and it was really interesting to see how different people approached the topic.

From there I took the cross-town bus to Talpiot, where I met with Tzvi Maurer of Urim Publications.  This publisher is mostly known for excellent non-fiction and biography, but I heard about a new work of fiction.

The Mystery of the Milton Manuscript by Barry M. Libin.  It is "the story of Keith Jessup, a PhD student at Oxford, whose professor is murdered before delivering a lecture disclosing Milton’s own explanation of Paradise Lost. In his stead, Keith takes up the quest to find the Milton Manuscript and finally unravel the meaning of the epic poem. The scholarly hunt proves perilous as he discovers a plot to conceal the manuscript. Why? What could it contain that would spark such fear and murder over the centuries?"

After seeing some "Real Cats of Israel,"  I returned home to my baskets of laundry.

Happy reading!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Jerusalem Writers' Seminar

I recently attended the Jerusalem Writers' Seminar, where I spent the day listening to some of my favorite authors and writers talk about their craft.  Obviously part of the fun of my day was going to Jerusalem.  The van driver took the scenic route from my town into the city, and the views of the hills and trees were amazing.  The seminar took place on Kanfei Nesharim street, which means "wings of eagles."  It was once used as a landing strip to fly supplies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but now it is a vibrant thoroughfare, full of shops, restaurants and government offices.

Being an author groupie, I enjoyed meeting some of my favorite Jewish authors:

Yaffa Ganz, who was the recipient of a Sydney Taylor Book-of-Work Award, gave a workshop entitled "The Art of Writing What Publishers Hesitate to Print," and reminded writers that people will often be more receptive to your message if it is presented respectfully and with appropriate language.  Could you write an article about the beauty of the Israeli flag for an anti-Zionist publication?  Could you convince Orthodox readers that women should wear tefillin?  I have no doubt that Yaffa Ganz could, but for the rest of us it would be a challenge.

I got a peak at her latest book, All Kinds of Kids.  This collection of stories goes through the alphabet (Thankfully, no contrived use of the letter "X") with Eager Ezra, Helpful Hinda and more.  The short chapters make for easy reading, and, of course, it's Yaffa Ganz, author of Savta Simcha and so many other timeless Jewish children's books.

I also met one of the organizers of this lovely day, Tamar Ansh.  Tamar's most recent book, Let My Children Cook!, as an adorable, easy to use cookbook for kids. Besides Passover's "Very Important Recipes (VIRs)" like Charoses and Matzo Balls, you can use many of the gluten-free recipes all year round, and who doesn't love "Scribbled Eggs" or a banana milkshake?

Libi Astaire also attended the seminar and gave a workshop.  As a Regency Romance addict, I love the Ezra Melamed series, which strikes the right balance between Jewish content and the language and customs of the period.  The Disappearing Dowry was named a Sydney Taylor Notable Book, and "in this fourth volume of the series, The Doppelganger's Dance, David Salomon, a young violinist and composer, has left New York to find fame and fortune in Regency London. But disaster strikes not long after he arrives. Someone is stealing and publishing his compositions before he can perform them and soon he is the laughingstock of the beau monde that he had hoped to conquer. With few friends and even fewer resources, he turns to Ezra Melamed for help with finding the thief."

On the subject of the beauty of Israel, my friends at Go2Films are distributing a spectacular movie:  The Land of Genesis.

Here is a brief synopsis:

"The film presents the "Experience of The Land of Genesis" by following three mammals in their respective geographic habitats, as the seasons change. Each of the animals – the wolves of the Golan Heights, the swamp cats of the Sea Of Galilee and the ibexes of the desert – will open a window to the world of plants and animals of the region, a world filled with amazing beauty, a world in which there is no hatred, and which is guided only by one urge – the urge for survival.
Utilizing the amazing landscape shots by the international awards winning cinematographer Moshe Alpert, and the magnificent ethnic-inspired music of Uri Ophir and internationally-acclaimed singer Noa, we managed to create a unique film, an uplifting experience of sound and color."

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What If?

What if you were doing what you usually do on a normal day, and all of a sudden it starts raining?  But then it doesn't stop raining.  Sixteen-year-old Sebah is caught in what turns out to be "The Flood."  She ends up as a stowaway on Noah's Ark and is a witness to all that goes on.

There is no spoiler alert necessary because I'm not including any spoilers.  I am usually not a fan of books based on biblical stories that push creative license to the point of blasphemy or heresy.  But Ms. Napoli did her research in many areas (and I do love an obviously well-researched book).  The time frame stays true to the biblical time frame as to when the rain stopped, when the mountain tops could be seen, and when everyone finally got off the Ark.  The animal behavior, particularly some fun-loving primates, is also accurate, as are the descriptions of the foods and plants.  She even includes the midrash of Og, the King of Bashan, riding on top of the Ark.

While reading the book, many things came to mind.  In a way, STORM fits in the current trend of dystopic books - having the violent, evil world destroyed by a flood is pretty frightening, and the details of how Sebah deals with life on a daily basis, while retaining hope for the future, is what keeps the book moving at a steady pace.  It also brought back fond memories of APE HOUSE by Sara Gruen, another great book.  

While many children's book portray Noah happily feeding the pairs of animals, Napoli explored the interaction between the people on the Ark.  When you think about it, spending days cooped up in the rain makes people tense and irritable, especially when they spend those days feeding and cleaning up after animals.

For those who may worry, I checked all the biblical passages and calculated the days myself, and the book does not veer far from the original story.  I continue to assert that Noah was not Jewish, since Abraham was the first Jew (10 generations later).  So while the story of Noah is not a particularly Jewish story, it is a biblical one.  Napoli's tale is gritty and imaginative. To quote the author:  "people who are religious can open it without fear of having what they hold dear being trampled.  New perspectives can sometimes support old ones in an enriching way, rather than supplant or denigrate them."

STORM poses that challenging question to the reader.  What if?  What if you were on the Ark?  How would it smell? (Probably pretty bad).  What would you eat?  How would you pass what little free time you had?  How would you feel before, during, and after the rain? Were there rainbows before God "set his rainbow in the cloud" and promised "the water shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh." (Genesis 9, verses 13-15).  Do you think the world today would qualify to be flooded?

The book is appropriate for both young adults and adults.  Young adults will identify with the 16-year-old Sebah, who deals with a combination of dystopia, Big Brother and Survivor.  Adults will appreciate how closely STORM follows the biblical account.