Over on Soferet, there's been a bit of a running debate about the lack of choice and good books available today in so many orthodox Jewish book stores. If you want a Gadol biography, or a cookbook - you're in luck!
But if you want a book that talks about real issues or challenges; or that even touches on the topics of off-the-derech children and sky-rocketing divorces; or the reasons for all the mental health and physical issues battering the orthodox Jewish community - then you probably won't find what you're looking for, in your local orthodox Jewish bookstore.
And that's a shame! Part of the problem is that nearly all the orthodox bookstores are serviced by a handful of big publishers who either have a particular style and reputation to protect, like Artscroll, or who are charging Jewish authors astronomical sums just to get into print and distributed - like $10k upfront.
So, I've been trying to explore finding ways to get more Jewish orthodox Indie authors published, as this is an excerpt of the discussion that's been going on over on the Soferet Google Group.
Feel free to weigh in, dear reader, and let me know what you think about all this, as an orthodox Jew who presumably wants to read something Jewish, at least occasionally...
Further to the discussion we've been having about book distribution options for independently published authors, this is the response I received back from Feldheim publishers:
We offer several options for authors. Some books we undertake the cost of publishing, go through rigorous editing, and pay royalties, usually approximately 10%. Other books we can do on a distribution basis, with or without our imprint . We can arrange the printing and the author pays the costs (printing, shipping from Israel where we do most of our printing, and advertising if the author opts for it ). Our sales staff works on getting the books into stores worldwide. The resulting sales are paid based on the particular contract, often at 30% - 35% range. The profit for the author will depend on the success of the book. The level of editing necessary will depend on the combination of whether it has our name on it at all, and the qualtiy of the manuscript we receive.
We are happy to receive submissions appropriate for the Orthodox Jewish market and have our editorial staff evaluate if it is an item we would like to either publish or just distribute. If we are interested, we work on a contract of mutually agreed terms. We have been working on "Torah Literature of Quality" for nearly 80 years and welcome new authors to our collection.
Manuscripts should be set to email@example.com, and usually receive a reply within a month.
Just to update you: I tried this out with one of my recent books, The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, and I got back this reply - in less than 48 hours! -
Thank you for submitting your manuscript The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife to Feldheim Publishers. Regrettably, we are unable to accept it for distribution, however, we wish you much success with it.
Separately, I also heard from an author (whose book I have read, and really enjoyed) who told me:
My book was refused by Feldheim distribution, and then another small publisher/distributor liked a the book very much and seemed ready to distribute it and then when just ‘checking’ with their larger partner Feldheim, it suddenly became an apologetic thumbs down.
No easy answers for those who truly have something to add that’s not in the box.
So it's not so straightforward or easy to get your book distributed currently, if you're not already part of the establishment.
I'm still waiting to hear back from the Israel Bookstore, to see what their policies and guidelines are, and I'll be sure to share them with you as and when they come through.
In the meantime, we are continuing to look for a solution to the stranglehold that the big book publishers are maintaining on introducing some fresh perspectives and new authors to the orthodox Jewish book marketplace, and we will keep you posted as some of the ideas being mooted mature into something more concrete.
If you'd like to be join our independent author think tank, please feel free to get in touch.
I can totally imagine how disappointed you were when you expected your book to be accepted for distribution and then apparently someone changed their mind and the opportunity was lost. Rejection is deeply painful and being sensitive people, I think authors suffer more than most.
On the other hand I was taken aback by your conclusion that the big book publishers are maintaining a “stranglehold” in the orthodox Jewish market. You feel it is time to introduce fresh perspectives and made an offer to join your independent think tank.
With all due respect, and no wish to offend on a personal level, I must point out that there may be other interpretations in this case. I personally am grateful to the “big book publishers” for protecting me and my family from certain “fresh perspectives” that I really don’t want to be exposed to. Every publisher I’ve ever met (and you can meet all of them every year at Tamar Ansh’s JWWC) has impressed me with their integrity, their willingness to consider new ideas, and their erlichkeit.
The frum public is set apart from the wide world and it’s pseudo-ethics, political correctness, and corrupted values for good reason. I appreciate when the publishers take responsibility to “guard the gates”. Anyone who is drawn to the kind of thing that doesn’t fit into a Torah lifestyle can easily find it elsewhere.
Of course I don’t think for a minute that you personally would write something offensive, but it’s a slippery slope. If a publisher feels the subject is inappropriate--chances are that some risk is involved. Our Torah sages see very far ahead of the rest of us. If an author wants to offer what they feel is a fresh perspective, then why not get a haskama from a posek? For sure every publisher will welcome such a manuscript. If an author is uncomfortable asking for a haskama, then it may say “darshayni”.
Wishing you bracha and hatzlacha in the new year,
Rochel, thanks so much for your heartfelt response, I appreciate it.
Just to clarify, the author who was rejected had haskamot from very well-known rabbis in Jerusalem, and I have absolutely no problem asking for, or getting, haskamot on my own work.
Secondly, do you not think it's a tad hypocritical and spiritually dangerous to expect orthodox Jews to get their books 'elsewhere' - i.e. from very unkosher sources and bookstores where there are absolutely no minimum standards for anything?
The reality is that most of the Jews today - even the extremely orthodox Jews - are subject to sources of tumah, and are facing challenges, that were unheard of in previous times. Just look how many people have i-Phones and are viewing things online and via Kindles etc.
Instead of pretending that this isn't happening in our community, I think it would be a much better idea to face the challenge head on, accept that many in the orthodox Jewish community don't just want to read Gadol biographies - even though they are often so very nicely written - and to start to put out more books written for and by orthodox Jews, which don't just present a particular, idealised, view of the world that so many in the orthodox community simply can't relate to, or aren't really that interested in.
Sasson has a rabbinic board, there are many orthodox rabbis who are behind our initiative, and it's not a question of trying to do something to sully the Jewish soul, God forbid, or being drawn to things that don't fit into a Torah lifestyle.
For example, my book, the Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, is all about working on emuna, and talking to God to overcome and deal with the many day-to-day challenges we all face, including rebellious teens, terrorism and financial insecurity. Do you really believe that sort of book does 'not fit into a Torah lifestyle'? How can that be?
It's much more a question of just finding as many kosher avenues as possible to enable proper Jewish expression and communication, dafka to keep people away from all those alternative tumah-dik sources of books and other forms of communication whilst still enabling them to find things that they can actually relate to, and hopefully be inspired by and grow from.
Thanks so much again for your valuable input, Rochel.
I had a similar experience with Feldheim. Some years back, they turned down a book of mine, complaining that it mentioned swearing. I reminded them that there were no actual swear words (which would have been in Greek, which I don't know), only the reference to coarse people's language.
They said a child might read it.
I pointed out that it was a book for adults, and that in any case, there was no bad language. "But a child might pick it up!" was the answer. I didn't retort, but I wanted to know, where are the parents? Lying back with a can of beer, letting their kids run wild?
Feldheim obviously weren't a good fit for me. I went to another publisher, who were willing to take the book - but it turned out they were distributed by Feldheim, who had an additional level of editorial control. I did eventually find a publisher, but one with no advertising budget. Naturally, they soon went out of business! I knew my book might have issues because it wasn't a sweet, gentle book, but one following a rough tinok shenishba's path to frumkeit, so I wasn't exactly surprised that I had trouble.
It's a cruel world out there...
The title alone tells you that this book is trying to go out on a limb in the orthodox Jewish world, so I was very happy to read a copy of this, author Bracha Goetz’s memoir.
Bracha is best known for authoring more than 30 children’s books, many of which have become a staple in Jewish homes, so this book was quite a departure from her usual style, and her usual audience.
The book spans around three decades of the author’s life, and begins with her diary entries as a young girl, to her ‘diary friend’ called Twilly. Now, a quick confession: I wasn’t overly-fond of the ‘Twilly’ entries, although I could appreciate that they were setting the scene for what was to come, and trying to depict the day-to-day life of a young secular Jewish girl in the States who had no idea what it really meant to be a Jew.
The book really started to come into its own, for me, when ‘Twilly’ disappeared off the scene and Bracha began to describe her experiences in much more adult terms. The book covers a lot of ground, ranging from trying out other religions as an older teen, to falling in with a bad crowd, to the first real experience of Yiddishkeit on a trip to the holy land.
Although the content is pretty dramatic in places, and is definitely pushing out boundaries in a frum world that likes to keep all the issues and problems we all face in our private lives firmly under wraps, Bracha writes with such a gentle hand, often via allusion, hint and poem, that’s it’s often left to the reader to peer between the lines to really grasp a little more of what was truly going on.
One of the book’s themes is food, and more specifically the unhealthy relationship to food so many people in the West, and particularly media-pressured women, seem to have in our generation.
Again, the subject is treated with a gentle hand in the book, but the picture painted is still clearly one of eating dysfunction as a result of that huge, spiritual hole that so many of us baal teshuvas had to try to fill with whatever came to hand, growing up.
Some people tried to fill it with unhealthy relationships, others with career ‘success’ and money, and still others with substances and pills. Bracha ended up with an eating disorder, hence the title of the book.
Something else you should know about ‘Searching for God in the Garbage’ is that many of the prose sections are punctuated by poems, and a few of those poems were my favourite parts of the book.
Take this verse, for example:
A box of cookies
As a temporary refuge
Doesn’t last long.
Not long enough
To be a kid forever.
So much is said in so few words about what’s really behind so many of the eating disorders, and all sorts of other ‘disorders’ plaguing the world generally.
Usually, when a book tackles the kind of heavy-weight subjects that are found in Goetz’s memoir, from seriously dating non-Jews, to dealing with family members who are upset that you’ve ‘joined a religious cult’ by getting all frum on them, to that effort to fill the black void inside our souls when God is missing from the equation and apparently out of the picture, it can often be wrenching for the reader, and pretty hard going.
Personally, I quite like wrenching accounts (call me a masochist…) but I still enjoyed the more gentle approach employed in Bracha’s book, and I applaud the author’s courage in putting so much of her real inner dimension out there, and lifting the lid on a bunch of subjects that we should be discussing much more in religious society.
Ultimately, I think the book is actually more about finding God in the garbage, than just searching for Him there. Maybe that’s a subtle distinction, but not everyone could have come through Bracha’s experiences and emerged a believing Jew, as the shocking intermarriage rates in the US and elsewhere sadly attest.
It’s not easy growing up sane and Jewish. It wasn’t easy in the 1970s and 1980s, where much of the action in the book takes place, and it’s probably even harder in 2018. And that may well be where this book will have the biggest impact in the Jewish world, as a bridge between parents who are doing their best to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and to pretend everything has always been A-OK, and the next generation that is desperately demanding that we get real, and honestly explore what’s happening in our lives, families and inner dimension.
Goetz’s book goes a long way to building the foundation of that discussion, and I, for one, am very interested to see what other positive things may now be built in the orthodox Jewish world, as a result.
Click HERE to buy the paperback ($17.99) or Kindle ($4.99) on Amazon.
So, do you remember that I actually wrote a book recently, called The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife?
(If you forgot don't worry, because I also did....)
But luckily, the Goodreads Struggling Writers' group remembered, and they just posted up an interview about me and the book, which you can see HERE.
The Jewish nation is numerically one of the smallest in the world, and when you’re trying to sell books to it, by golly do you feel that paucity of numbers.
But when you’re an orthodox Jewish writer writing in English - and your brand of orthodoxy isn’t so mainstream frum either - well, good luck shifting ten copies of your latest offering.
The Forward won’t be interested in promoting you and your books, with all your backward ideas about God actually existing, and about people having souls, and about them having a mission in life that extends beyond being famous, thin or rich.
And mainstream orthodox magazines like Mishpacha won’t be interested in you either, because you don’t paint a picture of Yiddishkeit that is uniformly monolithic and unbending, where all of the orthodox Jews in the world are apparently all keeping all of the 613 explicit mitzvoth, all of the time, and NEVER having even the tiniest little spiritual struggle or crisis of faith.
And yet, the English-speaking orthodox Jewish world is crying out for these sorts of words from the heart, and this sort of honest self-expression. If the mainstream orthodox magazines won’t give voice to this, then who will? And if you’re not being covered or reported on by these magazines, then how on earth is anyone even meant to know who you actually are, or what you really stand for, let alone be persuaded to buy your books?
Another huge obstacle that orthodox authors have encountered is that many of them try to spend as little time as possible on the internet, which they (often rightly) view to be a moral swamp, a sea of evil speech and a massive waste of mankind’s most precious commodity, i.e. our time.
Relatively few orthodox Jewish authors have the same interest or motivation to ‘be online’ and to do all the things that network-savvy authors are supposed to do to sell their books, like sticking up Facebook posts, or servicing a regular blog, or sending out clever Instagram pics of their book being read by minor celebrities.
Not only that, a large swathe of their target market are also adverse to the internet, which means that even when an orthodox Jewish author does do all these online things, finding anyone out there to actually connect to is still proving to be quite a struggle.
Add all these things together, and you arrive at a number of formidable obstacles stacked up in the path of an orthodox Jewish writer who doesn’t have a comfortable ‘label’ to fall back on, or a standard ‘box’ to fit into.
But when, o when, did real change, real creativity, real society-transforming prose and poetry ever sprout from the midst of a comfort zone?
Which kind of sums up the problem. And until now, there really hasn’t been much of a solution, but hopefully, what I’m about to tell you is going to start changing the picture for unorthodox orthodox Jewish writers.
The glimmer of light at the end of this very long tunnel is called Sassonmag.com.
Sasson Magazine has a very simple premise: to pull some of the English-speaking orthodox world’s most talented and creative writers together into one place, so that they can find their target audience, and so that their target audience can also find them.
The site is being bootstrapped into being by around 15 committed Jewish writers, who are freely sharing their time, energy and creativity to get Sassonmag.com off the ground, and into Jewish reality.
Issue one came out at the beginning of October, and contained an eclectic mix of poetry, prose and fiction. Issue two is already well underway, and there are plans afoot to start a podcast interviewing Jewish authors, and a fiction and poetry workshop, which will help new writers really hone their craft.
The founders are also trying to encourage creative expression by doing things differently from most other websites out there, Jewish or not. For example, Sassonmag.com welcomes pieces that you’ve already posted up on your own blog or Facebook page, and you retain the copyright on anything that appears on the site.
If you’re being paid for a submission to a publication that’s one thing (and also, lucky you! That’s an increasingly rare perk in today’s world where words are cheaper than they’ve ever been.) But if you’re anyway volunteering a piece, then why on earth should the publication that publishes it claim ownership to it?
You care about your writing much more than they do, and you’ll probably do much more with it, if they let you.
The nascent site also contains a library where featured authors can upload their book titles, and interested readers can click straight through to buy them in their thousands. (A girl can dream).
It’s early days still, but the process of real change nearly always sprouts in a quiet, gentle way initially. So if you’d like to be part of Sassonmag.com, please go check out the site HERE, check out the Submission guidelines HERE, and get in touch!
There’s thousands of English-speaking frum readers out there who are really struggling to find decent stuff to read, and tens of orthodox-friendly Jewish authors who are struggling to find their audience. So let’s make the shidduch, shall we?
Someone asked about how to do Print-on-Demand if you're a Jewish author, and this is what I emailed her back. If you're an author with more to add, please feel free to share in the comments field at the bottom.
There are really 2 options to use for POD, in terms of getting your book out to the widest number of channels, and those two are Create Space (Amazon's own company) and Ingram Spark.
There are pros and cons for both. Here's a brief rundown of what they broadly are:
CREATE SPACE IS GOOD FOR:
People on very tight budgets, who want the POD process to be as easy as possible, and who aren't planning to print a lot of their own books for face-to-face sale.
It also helps if you live in the US (or UK) because while Create Space do give a discounted price on the books authors themselves buy, first of all it's not such a big discount, and second of all the postage costs of getting those books shipped to Israel are prohibitive.
The main 'con' of create space is that is stamps the book as 'self-published', and many traditional book buying channels won't touch it with a bargepole. That may be less of an issue anyway in the Jewish book world, but it certainly is the case in the non-Jewish book world.
INGRAM SPARK IS GOOD FOR:
Anyone who's planning to publish a lot of books, who wants their books to be available in the more 'professional' book distribution channels, and who wants to print a number of their own books, to sell face-to-face at events, etc.
I find the pricing is much more flexible, and reasonable, especially for people living in Israel.
The main downs of Ingram spark is:
You have to pay a set-up fee for each book, while Create Space is free (currently $50 a title).
Sometimes, the book shows up on Amazon as 'out of stock, but more coming soon' - especially if you aren't selling a lot via Amazon - while Create Space titles always show up as available.
Whichever option you choose, you will need to get the book properly designed, although again, Create Space makes it much easier, at least in theory, for you to 'design' the interior of your book yourself in Word and then have Create Space turn it into a PDF etc, (although that can sometimes look a little amateurish, depending on how well you do it, and doesn't suit every type of book), while you will have to have a professionally designed PDF done for Ingram Spark.
You can also do your own cover on Create Space for free, but again, it's very hard to avoid the book looking a little amateurish when you do that (unless you're unusually talented at putting covers together.)
So in terms of costs for POD, it stacks up like this:
Create Space - you could potentially do it all for free, but if you want it to look professional expect to pay a minimum of $200-300 for good book design and cover
Ingram Spark - will cost $50 set up fee, plus the $200-300 for good book design and cover.
They are both 'suitable' for Jewish books, inasmuch as you choose if you want the book published or not, but again, I find it's much easier to control what actually shows up on the Amazon website if the title is from Ingram Spark.
With both companies, the books will show up both on the Amazon website and Book Depository.
In the (now far distant) past, I used to wolf down fiction books in one gulp. In fact, my addiction to quality fiction was one of the biggest challenges I had when my kids were very small, because I couldn’t put books down when I needed to, in order to give them the time and attention they needed.
When I moved to Israel and frummed-up, the fiction books got the heave-ho, along with a bunch of other things like movies and internet in my home, which I’d come to realize weren’t so good for my soul or my aspirations to be a good parent.
Did I miss the fiction? Yes and no. Yes, I missed the pure escapism, but no, I really don’t miss the thought that I just wasted a day reading the product of someone else’s imagination.
But every now and then, I make an exception to my ‘no fiction’ rule, and one of those exceptions was for the book ‘By light of hidden candles’, by Daniella Levy.
The prose is very easy on the internal ear, the story is just fast-paced enough to keep you reading avidly, and the subject matter - a Jewish girl who almost gets swept up in a romance with an apparently Catholic student, set against the backdrop of a research project exploring Spain’s crypto Jews - is definitely captivating.
Here’s what I really liked about the book: It’s not at all pretentious, it’s extremely well-written and well-researched, and it explores the issues of intermarriage, interfaith relationships generally, and the always fascinating subject of conversos, in a way that I think most Jewish readers would really appreciate.
(The converso, or crypto Jews were Spanish subjects who were given the choice of converting to xtianity or being forced to leave the country as penniless wanderers. Sadly, many Jews put their bodies ahead of their souls, and they and their descendants have paid an extremely heavy price for that for coming on for 600 years’, already.)
Here’s what I was less keen on: all the detailed xtian stuff it contains, including descriptions of catholic mass, xtian teachings, and the general tolerance and even, dare I say it, respect for xtianity.
In terms of the book, if the author Daniella Levy had been a jot less detailed, or a touch less tolerant and respectful of xtianity, her artful depiction of the characters involved, and the integrity of the book, would have definitely suffered as a result.
And yet…as a frum Jew, I have to admit to wincing through a couple of the passages, and wishing there was a kind of ‘third way’ where Levy could accurately portray the main protagonist without having to drag the reader straight up the baptismal font after him.
But let’s be clear that most people, most frum Jews, even, probably won’t have the same strong reaction to those scenes that I did.
If you find all things ‘xtian’ distasteful, this may not be the book for you to settle down with this Autumn. If you can at least tolerate references to xtianity, then I think you’ll find this book a very good read, and a thought-provoking excursion into the deeper questions of what really makes a person a Jew, anyway, and how much most of us would be willing to sacrifice to hang on to our Jewish faith.
You can buy the Kindle and Paperback version of 'By light of hidden candles' on Amazon, HERE.
'Yaakov the Pirate Hunter' by Nathaniel Wyckoff is not my usual reading fare, I'll be honest. But I've come to realise that there are so few orthodox Jewish authors out there, that I have to do everything I can to try to spread their word about their books and work, even if it's in a genre that I don't usually 'do'.
Hence, a week spent reading 'Yaakov the Pirate Hunter' by Nathaniel Wyckoff. The book is fiction (I know, like duh! you figured that out without me...) but where it's extremely unusual is that it combines a kind of gentle sci-fi, futuristic vibe with some extremely orthodox characters - for kids!!
I don't have small kids at home these days, but I can tell you that when I was trying to find suitable, fun, reading material for my pre-teens a while back, the frum fiction world had me gnashing my teeth and yearning for Anne of Green Gables - even with its somewhat derogatory caricature of a Jewish peddler.
But at least it wasn't set in World War II!!! At least it wasn't set in a girls' school in Bnei Brak!!! At least there was more to the plot than finding a good shidduch or running away from rabid Ukrainian peasants who were trying to kill you!!!
So, 'Yaakov the Pirate Hunter' makes a very welcome, and refreshing addition to the frum children's lit world. The pace is fast enough to keep the kids' attention, and the plot is interesting enough to keep you guessing until the last page, and best of all - they keep shabbos!!!
And still talk about pirates, treasure hunts and robots.
So if you're looking for an engaging Jewish fiction book for 7-11 crowd, I highly recommend this book, which is the first in a series of three.
You can get the book on Amazon, HERE.
Now, as you may or may not know, I’m not a big reader of fiction. In the old days, I used to get far too ‘caught up’ in the plot, or the storyline, and be unable to put a book down until it was finished - which is a real problem when you have to look after other members of the family who can’t wait to eat their supper until you’ve reached the denouement.
So that’s one reason I stopped reading so much fiction. Another reason I stopped reading fiction is because a few years’ ago, I decided to only read books by frum Jews and there was precious little in the way of frum fiction that I found really appealing.
So when a book called ‘Open when you are’ by frum Jewish author Ben Ackerman came my way, I initially eyed it a little skeptically. Was this going to be another tale of Breindys and Moishes stuck in some shidduch crisis, or suffering from a spate of robberies in their bungalow colony?
Cautiously, I started reading the book - and dear reader, I was completely hooked from page 2!
I know this sounds a little perverse, but it was so amazing to read a scintillating piece of Jewish fiction that had such a solid spiritual side to it my soul was completely satisfied, but without anyone being called ‘Shaindy’ or ‘Shloimie’, and not a kugel in sight.
In some ways, ‘Open when you are’ is a classic tale of good versus bad, and light versus darkness, and the many difficult choices we all have to face as Jews with a foot planted firmly in both the spiritual and material spheres.
But one of the amazing things about the book is that while I could completely relate to the spiritual struggles being depicted, and it also made me feel really good about being a Jew, and about the Jewish mission to be a light unto the nations, God and Judaism weren’t mentioned even once.
The story rollicked along at a really good pace, there were enough twists and turns to keep me reading briskly (yes, I finished it in one go…now my kids are teens, I can do that on Shabbat mornings, most weeks now.)
The dialogue was entertaining, occasionally laugh out loud amusing, and frequently so deep - in an easy to read way - that it was almost like reliving the earnest ‘meaning of life’ discussions I used to enjoy so much in university. Except let’s be clear, Ben Ackerman’s characters had far more clarity, and far better explanations than anything I used to get from the Hillel House.
This book made me feel really happy to be a religious Jew. It made me really happy that I’m not the only person out there who is also seeing what’s really lurking under the perfect, shiny façade of the modern world. And it made me really happy that there are frum Jews writing the sort of frum fiction that could easily hold its own against any mainstream fiction, while still being so darned
nourishing for the soul.
Ackerman’s story managed to capture the essence of what it means to be a believing Jew without once mentioning the ‘J’ word, God, or Torah and mitzvot.
Quite a feat!
So, I highly, highly, highly recommend this book to all frum Jews who’d like something ‘lighter’ to read; and also to anyone who’s struggling a little to understand why be Jewish (whatever their age, but I can see this book especially appealing to teenagers), and to anyone who wants to understand what the fight between good and darkness in the modern world is really all about.
Open when you are by Ben Ackerman is available to buy on Amazon HERE,
FROM THE BACK COVER:
Gabel's eatery is always open, feeding hungry hearts, bodies, and souls. When Strad, a young man at odds with life, wanders in, an uncanny encounter propels him on a journey to the hidden Fifth-Dimension of Altruego. He meets a people with ancient roots and a mysterious mission, whose curious customs and odd-sounding ideas somehow snap the missing puzzle pieces of Strad's life into place.
After a startling discovery and some "mystical" cooking lessons from Gabel, Strad returns home ready to bring the harmonizing secret of Fifth-Dimensional vision to a world constrained by the four dimensions of space and time, and gasping for spiritual air. But a powerful foe with an insidious agenda is just as driven to see him fail. In the short time it takes to read this dynamic, entertaining novel, you'll gain an electrifying new perspective on reality. Altruego may be an allegory, but its door to a different dimension is real, and OPEN -- when YOU are.
Recently, I had the privilege of meeting the author of 'Jumping over shadows', Annette Gendler for a coffee in Jerusalem. We discussed a whole bunch of things about what it means to really 'belong' somewhere, in all meanings of the word, and also how much time, effort and money is involved in trying to promote our books.
I also asked her some questions to tie in with the launch of my latest book, The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife, and her answers make for some very interesting reading.
1) Tell me a little bit about how you became a writer.
As I was nearing my 40th birthday, I cast about for what I would do with the rest of my professional life. I was working a demanding consulting job at the time. I was very good at it but it was also clear to me that 30 years down the line, having success in that job or a similar one would not be what I would look back on as a fulfilling and meaningful life.
I have always been good at writing but I can’t spin a yarn like my grandfather used to, so I never conceived of myself as writer. Then, also before my 40th birthday, I took that first trip to Liberec, my grandparents’ former hometown in the Czech Republic, a location that figures prominently in Jumping Over Shadows. I sensed so many undercurrents on that trip that I felt I had to do something with that, so I took an online travel writing class.
That class was pivotal to my career as a writer—the teacher admonished us to “wake up and write”—the best writing advice I ever got, and even though I worked a full-time job and had three little kids, I started getting up at five in the morning to write. Once I made that commitment, my writing took off. I also discovered that you didn’t have to spin a yarn, that literary nonfiction was a thing. Lastly, I met one of my best writing friends in that class—we went on to found our own online group that is still going strong.
2) Why did you want to write ‘Jumping over Shadows’.
First of all, it is the story of an impossible love that succeeded, and thus a universal story despite its unique circumstances. A lot of people fall in love with the “wrong” person, and I wanted to share our story and show that it can work out if you have the courage to stick to your heart and if the two of you really share the same values. But it is not only a story about a romantic love that works out, it is also about the love the families around us had to offer up despite their misgivings.
Secondly, I am very conscious of the fact that the past influences the present, that memories we inherited and that are not our own, shape our lives. The more we understand where these memories came from, the more meaning we find in our own lives.
3) What was the hardest part of writing the book, and why.
Writing my own love story! How do you do that without being soppy? It is, in general, surprisingly hard to write about something happy.
4) Did your husband Harry read the book? If yes, what did he think?
Yes, of course he read it. I never send anything out that features him or another family member without him being okay with it. I made all the changes he wanted me to, which were minor. He’s a very private person, so he’s not thrilled about our story being out there, and he insists that it’s my book and he does not want to be a spokesperson for it.
However, he also enjoys reading the story again and again and finds it “interesting.” In general I have found that people like being featured in your writing as long as you do them justice and as long as they understand that it’s your version of events. Being written about is a validation most people welcome.
5) What sort of reaction have you had from readers? (Positive and negative)
The most consistent feedback has been that people find the book hard to put down. That is the greatest compliment because there’s nothing worse for a book than to be boring.
Thankfully I have not had overtly negative feedback yet, although I do get the feeling that some readers are not on board with some of the choices I made, such as going all the way with an Orthodox conversion, but that’s their privilege. Every reader has a right to his or her opinion.
6) The issue of intermarriage is a very sensitive one. Were you scared to tackle such a big subject in such a personal way?
I wasn’t scared but I was reluctant to write about my conversion because it is not an issue for me. I converted and I never looked back. I usually write about things I am grappling with—such as my binationality—because I write to understand. It wasn’t until my MFA professor advised that the past was only interesting in as far as it resonated in the present, that I realized my great-aunt’s story would come to life so much more if it were juxtaposed with my own story, if I gave homage to fact that history was repeating itself some 60 years later.
I also think it is important to recognize that if intermarriage brings converts into the Jewish community, it can be immensely enriching. The story of Ruth in the Bible is, of course, the classic example but I happen to know many couples, where one partner converted, and all are wonderful contributors to the community.
I feel that, in the Jewish press, intermarriage is always talked about as a negative thing. I actually don’t see our marriage as “intermarriage” because I converted, but there are, obviously always legacy challenges from that, for example, that a huge part of our extended family is not Jewish and doesn’t care about our Jewish lives.
7) Given your background and experiences, what would you do if one of your own children came to you and told you they were in a serious relationship with a non-Jew?
I would hope that they would decide to have a Jewish family. My husband and I are the best example that you don’t have to marry a Jew to accomplish that. I hope that we succeeded in giving our children what his parents gave him—an unequivocal Jewish identity and a strong sense of belonging to something meaningful and larger than himself, a treasure of a heritage worth passing on.
8) What advice would you: a) give to other parents whose children are considering marrying out of the faith b) give to the couples themselves.
8 a) see 7)
8 b) Decide, before you get married, who you are going to be as a couple, if you want to have children: Jewish or not. And then do it the proper way. Kids need a clear direction of where they belong.
9) Tell me a little bit about ‘Annette Gendler, the Jewish housewife’ - how do you spend your time, how do you connect to Judaism etc?
Judaism is very much a religion of the home and the woman of the house sets the tone for that. I know this is an oddly traditional homemaker response from someone who has been a working mother all her life, but I have observed this so many times that I really believe this: the mother makes the home, whether she is a stay-at-home mom or not.
Creating a Jewish home is really important—and making it fun for the kids. Over the years, I developed traditions that my kids now insist upon, even as young adults. My IDF-veteran daughter, for example, still wants to go apple-picking for Rosh Hashana. I always went all out for Chanukah—something my husband doesn’t relate to because in Germany, where he grew up, Chanukah wasn’t a big deal. I bring out my box of Chanukah decorations; I bake cut-out dreidel cookies with the kids despite the mess; I make latkes and even made my own sufganiyot once.
We also, for many years, built a sukkah—it is, in my opinion, the Jewish version of the Christmas tree—the kids have warm memories of decorating the Sukkah. This is the key—creating warm memories of being a Jew and celebrating Jewish customs that the kids will carry in their hearts and out into the world. My daughter decorated her dorm room in Boston for Chanukah, and my IDF combat soldier son, who was on guard duty in the Golan over Pesach, nevertheless managed to light two little candles and eat some matzah in his outpost hut on Seder night.
10) Complete this sentence: The biggest secret of a Jewish housewife is….
…that Judaism happens at home.
12) What’s your next project?
I have a children’s story based on something that happened to my mother-in-law when she was a hidden child in France. It takes place in the village of the “Briosne,” which shows up in Jumping Over Shadows. I would like to get that published.
13) Where can readers learn more about you and your books?
On my blog and website at www.annettegendler.com. Sign up for my newsletter there and I’ll keep you in the loop. Plus you’ll get a bonus chapter that I cut from Jumping Over Shadows.
In these days of the 'Three Weeks' the much hoped for ideal of Jewish unity - achdut! - sometimes seems so very far away from being realised. And especially when it comes to matters of Jewish expression.
I've just finished reading a post on a 'progressive' Jewish site which was fabulously well-written, even-handed, and as truthful as it could be, under the circumstances - but still promoting something that is completely against basic Jewish halacha.
So, NOT a good fit for a frum Jewish writer....
I head over to the more 'frum' sites and I tumble into more problems and issues...stereotypical caricatures of 'frum' life... an unending stream of holocaust fiction for YOUNG CHILDREN!!! (including cartoons...), a certain unwillingness to look ourselves, as a community, in the face and to accept the reality of what it really means to try (and often fail...) to be a frum person today.
Sure, there's plenty of moaning, sniping, carping, criticism, lashon hara, preaching, commenting and over-sensitivity about what everyone else is doing wrong. But where are those voices in the mist describing their own path out of the swamp, singing out the directions for the rest of us to follow?
Where is God in this murky mess? Where is the emuna, belief, hope that things are DEFINITELY going to change for the better? Where is the beauty of the Jewish soul, amidst all the chicken recipes for shabbos and tales of terminal illnesses?
Where o where is the Jewish quirkiness, the Jewish creativity, the Jewish depth, the Jewish ability to transform the world in a completely real, completely God-fearing, completely UNpolitically-correct way, hiding out, on the Frumlit scene?
That's what I've been wondering about, recently. Until push came to shove, and I decided to try to kick something off for God-fearing Jewish creative people - writers, bloggers, authors, poets - to share their work in an uplifting, inspiring, emuna-dik way that's not centred around 'hating' or 'dissing' the other.
Below, I've set out my initial thoughts and ambitions for the network.
(Firstly, tachlis, if you're a God-fearing Jewish author who wants to get your books reviewed on Goodreads and Amazon, take a look at the Orthodox Jewish Book Reviewers group I just set up on Goodreads - and tell other God-fearing Jewish authors about it too!)
The basic idea is to create a website, a portal, where authors can share their uplifting, real writing - fiction and non-fiction - in a forum that is 100% committed to Jewish halacha, 100% against lashon hara, dissing others and controversy for its own sake, and 100% FOR Jewish creativity and building the world using the talents and abilities God has given us for just that purpose.
As things progress, I hope we'll have podcasts with Jewish authors, interviews and snippets on Youtube, and a monthly magazine of the very best stuff available as a downloadable PDF for shabbat reading.
But most importantly of all, I hope we'll have some real achdut, Jewish unity, where we can finally start to focus on all the tremendous good there is in the Jewish community, and attempt to look past our differences without compromising an iota on our commitment to Hashem and His Torah.
That's what I'm really hoping for.
If you'd like to be part of this - or you know someone that you think might like to be part of this - please ping this post along to them, and / or drop me an email HERE.
And I'll send you a more detailed proposal.
Rivka Levy's Books: