Read and Post a Review for 2016’s Readukkah

From Heidi Rabinowitz:

The Association of Jewish Libraries and the Jewish Book Council present the second annual reading challenge for Jewish readers of all ages, #Readukkah! To participate, all you have to do is read one #JewLit book and post your review to the event discussion board on Facebook—or post a link to your review anywhere online—and use the hashtag #Readukkah to connect with other readers. #Readukkah takes place December 1-8, 2016. 

By sharing your #Readukkah reviews, your participation in this reading challenge helps spread the word about worthwhile titles, bringing them to the attention of more readers and supporting the publication of Jewish books!

RSVP to the #Readukkah Facebook Event to let us know you’ll be participating!
What if you don’t use Facebook? Review a #JewLit book on a blog, GoodReads, Amazon, YouTube, etc. and send the link to Heidi at She will post your review on Facebook for you. Happy Reading!

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Start 2017 with an Online Writing Class from The Whole Megillah

MP900341496[1]Students who enrolled in the July 2016 Fiction I class have enthusiastically progressed through Fiction II and are now engaged in Fiction III. There’s no greater gift than devoting time to the development and improvement of your craft.

With this in mind, take a look at some of The Whole Megillah online courses. Find one (or more) to take your writing to the next level.

Fiction I
Learn imagery, characterization (including dialogue), plot, setting, point of view, and revision in this six-week class.

Fee: $300
Start Date: January 22, 2017

The Whole Megillah Writing Circle
Receive exclusively Jewish prompts weekly for six weeks and post your writing using these prompts to a private Facebook page for feedback by other participants.
Fee: $150
Start Date: January 15, 2017

Creative Nonfiction
Use fictional techniques to create compelling nonfiction narrative in this six-week class. We’ll explore memoir, humor, travel, food, spiritual essays and revision through a combination of weekly readings and writing exercises.
Fee: $300
Start Date: January 15, 2017

One-on One Revision Lab
Work with me on revising your manuscript—picture book, middle grade, YA, and adult literary—using a technique I’ve perfected in the classroom: Revision Lab. We’ll work together on creating a storyboard of your work that helps you identify scenes to keep, enhance, or delete.
Fee: Depends on the length and complexity of the project
Start Date: Any time

How to Sign Up

Comment to this post if you’re interested in registering and I’ll contact you privately.

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Author’s Notebook | I Dissent, written by Debbie Levy & illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

debbie-levy-dissentI Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
Written by Debbie Levy
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
40 pp., Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What got you interested in Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)?
Debbie Levy (DL): You mean what got me interested other than that I’m a woman, a lawyer, a Jew, a supporter of progress and equal opportunity, a proponent of stories and books for kids that help them understand and accept the Other . . . ? :)

It was really the theme of disagreeing—of sharing a life that showed kids that change happens one disagreement after another, both change for your own individual life and for the world, and that disagreeing doesn’t make you disagreeable. RBG, I think, is such a fine example to hold up for our children. She’s a person who has been a change-maker and path-breaker through her disagreements. As importantly, her example shows that one can disagree and make big change happen without resorting to personal attacks, without insulting your opponents, and without closing yourself off to opposing points of view. I really like that through this book kids can see a person, a leader who says things like, “Sometimes people say unkind or thoughtless things, and when they do, it is best to . . . tune out and not snap back in anger or impatience.” And one of her best quotes is on the book’s back jacket: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

TWM: How did you develop the voice for the book?
DL: Once I decided on the “I dissent” theme, the voice flowed pretty naturally. There is, as you know, a variation on the “I dissent” theme on nearly every spread in the book. “She protested” (as a schoolgirl, to being forced to write with her right hand even though she is left-handed). “Ruth objected” (also in school, to the rule that required girls to take home ec, reserving shop class for boys). “Ruth disapproved right back” (when people disapproved of her decision to go to law school). “She resisted. And persisted” (when, as a young law school graduate at the top of her class, no one would hire her because she was a woman, a mother, and a Jew). And so on. The voice is enhanced—and I love this—by Elizabeth Baddeley’s large and emphatic hand lettering of these “dissenting” refrains.

TWM: Do you have a critique group? How does that help?
DL: I do not have a critique group. I do turn to some of my writer friends for feedback and suggestions on manuscripts. On this book, the thoughtful and talented Beth Kephart gave me valuable comments. Also, I’m a big believer in the editorial process and will revise and revise and revise. On all my manuscripts, my agent, Caryn Wiseman of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, offers helpful, informed feedback. And on this book, my editor at Simon & Schuster, Kristin Ostby, was absolutely relentless—and I’m so grateful she was—in pushing me to make it better, more on point, more succinct, more inviting, more fun. I can’t tell you how many times her emails to me began with the words, “Almost there. . . .” Which, of course, meant that we weren’t there. Every writer needs an editor like that!

TWM: What was your process for researching the book? Vetting it?
DL: I read everything I could about RBG, from news articles to scholarly articles to books to blogs to interviews. I watched endless interviews and tapes of her appearances and speeches. I became addicted to audio recordings of RBG in the Supreme Court—from 40-year-old audio of her arguing before the Court when she was a lawyer for the ACLU, to current audio of her on the bench questioning lawyers at oral arguments. Justice Ginsburg read the manuscript and gave me some comments and changes before we went to press. And I had a veteran Supreme Court reporter and observer, Tony Mauro, vet the manuscript as well.

TWM: Tell us about the reaction to the book. Katie Couric?
DL: I Dissent has been nicely received, with kind reviews and notices in The Washington Post, USA Today, Time, and The San Francisco Chronicle, for example; in Jewish publications such as Tablet and JW Magazine; as well as in the trade publications (stars in School Library Journal and Booklist). It’s a Junior Library Guild selection and a PJ Library Selection.

You mention Katie Couric: As Yahoo News’ global anchor, Katie recently interviewed Justice Ginsburg. Toward the end of the interview, Katie held up I Dissent and asked RBG about it:

Katie Couric: What do you hope little girls take away from this book? Little boys, too?

Justice Ginsburg: That they can do anything they want to do as long as they’re willing to put in the hard work that it takes to achieve.

To see the interview on Yahoo News, click here. The discussion of I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark starts at about the 25-minute mark . . . and includes RBG musing about being a little girl who would rather go out and climb trees like the boys (instead of sitting around in a pink party dress), and about viewing Nancy Drew as an early feminist icon. I’m sure you can imagine how much I love this!

TWM: What’s next for you?
DL: My next book comes out in February 2017. Called Soldier Song, A True Story of the Civil War (Disney-Hyperon), it’s an 80- page picture book for older children about a remarkable event that occurred after the Battle of Fredericksburg. It’s about how music—and one song in particular—brought the two sides, North and South, together for one night, enabling the soldiers to see the other side—the enemy—as fellow human beings. Illustrated by the wonderful Gilbert Ford, with lots of excerpts from soldier’s letters and diaries. I hope your readers will check it out.

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | October 2016 Report

Since I sent a lot of work out in September, it’s only inevitable that rejections poured in during October.

Here are my October statistics:

Poetry: No acceptances to report, but a poem was published last week on’s blog. I’m very proud of my Emma Lazarus blog post, because it includes this poem and showcases the research I did while a fellow at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati. I sent out a chapbook manuscript, Chicken Fat, to four competitions. I received nine rejections from Agni, A Public SpaceGettysburg Review, Redivider, Lascaux Review, Rust + Moth, Hermeneutic Chaos, Potomac Review, and Minerva Rising. I’m not discouraged; it’s part of the numbers game, and one of the rejections was personal. I’m at work on another chapbook manuscript, tentatively entitled The Beetle of Terezín.

Fiction: My short story, “Last Survivor,” inaugurated Lilith’s fiction blog in October. I was thrilled when my university’s provost included this achievement in his last campus-wide email. I withdrew this short story, which had been sitting in inventory for nearly two years, from a contest.

Creative Nonfiction: Nothing to report here, but I hope to begin crafting something new.

Question 4U: How is your writing going? Have you determined any specific submission strategies?



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Author’s Notebook | The Sundown Kid written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by John Kanzler


Picture book coming in January 2017 – The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat, written by Barbara Bietz, illustrated by John Kanzler, published by August House

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come up with the story? What inspired you?
Barbara Bietz (BB): I was born and raised in California and went to college and grad school in Arizona. My identity is deeply rooted in the Southwest. Many Jewish stories begin at Ellis Island, but not all families stayed in New York. I was inspired by Pioneer Jews by Harriet and Fred Rochlin. I had the opportunity to hear Harriet speak and as she described the brave and bold lives of Jewish pioneers, I got the chills. My response was so visceral and I knew I needed to learn more. I was especially interested in the strong women pioneers who maintained Jewish rituals in spite of great challenges. Their stories humbled me. The Sundown Kid is my love letter to all those families who came before me, who created communities that are thriving today.

When I set out to write The Sundown Kid my heart was really with Mama. How hard it must have been to leave a whole life behind! I flipped the perspective to the boy who wants to help his Mama feel at home in a new place, so he invites their new neighbors for Shabbat dinner. The Jewish value of welcoming strangers is as important today as it was in biblical times. Our differences disappear over a shared meal.

TWM: Was it a conscious choice to use first person? Was there a reason the boy was never named?
BB: Using first person helped me feel the emotional arc of the story and it worked, so I didn’t change it. I thought a lot about the naming the boy but I felt strongly that he didn’t need a name, other than his nickname Little Buckaroo. My hope is that young readers to will connect with a timeless challenge of adjusting to a new home, and see themselves in the experiences of the boy.

TWM: How did you decide to have a male protagonist?
BB: The boy character just presented himself. It’s just the way the story came to me – it wasn’t really a decision.

TWM: Did you have any involvement with the illustrator?
BB: I was so fortunate to be able to communicate with John Kanzler. His art takes my breath away and adds incredible depth to the story. John was very conscientious about being accurate—historically and religiously. He respected my input and I was impressed with his level of commitment to the story. In the end, The Sundown Kid is a collaboration. It is “our” story.

TWM: Do you know what medium he used?
BB: I had to ask John about this. He said, “I work digitally. That is, the entirety of the book exists on my iMac. I Used to paint in acrylics until my daughter (now ten) was beginning to explore my studio as a toddler. So I switched over fully for safety. I developed techniques that created art similar to my painted style to satisfy existing clients. I still miss painting at an easel, however, and hope to return to it someday.”

TWM: How did your manuscript land at August House?
BB: My manuscript was sent to August House by the amazing Chris Barash at PJ Library. I am so delighted that The Sundown Kid is a PJ Library selection. August House publishes mostly folktales, celebrating all cultures. I was thrilled and honored that The Sundown Kid was right for their list.

TWM: What were the greatest challenges with this story? Satisfactions?
BB: The process of publication for The Sundown Kid has been a joy. Everyone at PJ Library and August House has been an absolute pleasure.

barbara-bietzTWM: What do you like to read?
BB: I love all genres of children’s literature. As a reader, my sweet spot is realistic middle grade.

TWM: What are you working on now?
BB: I just finished a middle grade manuscript and I also have two picture book biographies I have been researching. All of these stories are currently spinning in my head, waiting for my attention.

For more about Barbara Bietz, see her website.

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Two-in-One Authors’ Notebook | Oedipus in Brooklyn & Other Stories by Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

oedipuscoveramazon-2Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel, translated by Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub. Mandel Vilar Press and Dryad Press, November 15, 2016.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did this project come about?
Ellen Cassedy (EC): Years ago, I began studying Yiddish as a memorial to my mother and quickly found that it became a wonderful home for me within Jewish culture. My first teacher gave me his copy of a book by Blume Lempel.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub (YAT): I grew up in an ultra-Orthodox yeshiva family, surrounded by Jewish languages including Yiddish, and I formally studied Yiddish as an adult. I have been involved in Yiddish culture since the early 1990s as a reader, writer, and translator.
EC: Ahron and I met in a Yiddish reading group. We began reading Blume Lempel’s work and were astounded by what we found.
YAT: We explored Blume Lempel’s stories together and decided we had to translate these splendid stories so that they could reach the wider audience they deserve.
EC: Lempel was born in a small Jewish town in Poland and immigrated to New York just before World War II. She wrote in Yiddish into the 1990’s. She takes up subjects other writers wouldn’t touch—including abortion, the erotic imaginings of a middle-aged woman on a blind date, and even an incestuous relationship between a mother and son. She tells truths about women’s inner lives that I’ve never encountered anywhere else.

TWM: What challenges did you face in translating these stories? What satisfactions? What surprises?
YAT: There were surprises at every turn—in virtually every paragraph, and on every page. Lempel’s prose is so poetic and rich that we had to exercise special care to capture her unique melody.
EC: Her narrations move between past and present, often several places on the same page, from Old World to New, from fantasy to reality. Imagine the conversational matter-of-factness of a Grace Paley combined with the surreal flights of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
YAT: Sometimes we had to accept uncertainty, realizing we wouldn’t be completely certain of Lempel’s meaning even if her text had been written in English. It was immensely satisfying to work with a partner, to be able to bounce ideas off each other, and to know that our interchange would strengthen the final version.
I derived deep satisfaction from immersion in the singular vision of this artist, searching always for the best word, the clearest turn of phrase to capture her meaning in English, the pleasure of moving between languages, and more long term, the joy of bringing her work to wider audiences.

TWM: How did you decide to arrange the stories in this order?
YAT: We kept the stories in the order they appeared in Lempel’s two collections, which were originally published in Israel. Lempel published in Yiddish publications all over the world, and we went looking in archives and libraries for additional stories, a couple of which appear in our book.

TWM: Did you have any favorite stories? Why were they your favorites? (“Yiddish Poet in Paris” was one of my favorites.)
YAT: “The Death of My Aunt” is a haunting portrait of an aging aunt and the love and responsibility felt by her niece. “Her Last Dance” tells the story of a Jewish woman forced to rely on her wits and beauty to survive wartime Paris. Despite its small scale, it evokes for me the work of Irène Nemirovsky and Nella Larsen (Passing). In capturing the desperation of a woman on the edge, it reminds me of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. “Waiting for the Ragman” is particularly rich in its description of life in a small Eastern European hometown, including a loving description of preparation for the Sabbath. “The Invented Brother” captures the poignant emotions of a young girl whose beloved older brother is swept away into revolutionary activity.
EC: I have to mention the title story, “Oedipus in Brooklyn.” Lempel masterfully draws you into the story of a contemporary Jewish mother and her blind son as they move inexorably toward their doom.

TWM: Are there any other Yiddish writers you want/hope to translate?
EC: I’m translating fiction by Yenta Mash (1922-2013), who, like Blume Lempel, experienced many upheavals in her lifetime. She wrote vividly about exile to Siberia, life in the Soviet Union, and the not-always-easy experience of adjusting to life in Israel. It’s a great privilege to be able to translate both of these Yiddish writers. To me, translating Yiddish feels like sacred work.
YAT: I am struck by how much wonderful translation is going on today, and also by how much important work there is yet to be translated. The Yiddish Book Center has initiated a rigorous translation program that has been widely successful. Ellen participated in the program. A recent anthology called Have I Got a Story for You: More Than a Century of Fiction From the Forward edited by Ezra Glinter (Norton, 2016) demonstrates the work of numerous Yiddish translators working today. The anthology also includes one of our translations of a story by Blume Lempel (“A Journey Back in Time”) and a story by Yenta Mash (“Mona Bubbe”) translated by Ellen. I am working on my own poems, a process which includes translating into Yiddish, and my own short stories, which includes translating numerous Yiddish words and phrases that appear throughout. I hope to get back to the translation of other writers in the near future.

About Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Ellen Cassedy and Yermiyahu Ahron Taub won the 2012 Translation Prize awarded by the Yiddish Book Center for their translation of fiction by Blume Lempel.

ellen2aug2016-2Ellen Cassedy is the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), which won several national awards and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Cassedy received a 2016 PEN/Heim Grant for her work on Yiddish writer Yenta Mash. Visit her website.



yatsmile-2Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of four books of poetry, Prayers of a Heretic/Tfiles fun an apikoyres, Uncle Feygele, What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn, and The Insatiable Psalm. “Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish Songs”, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music, was released in 2014. He was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Jewish, The Jewish Literary Journal, and Jewrotica.  Visit his website.

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In the Spirit of Poetry Has Value | September 2016 Report

L’shana tova, everyone! May your New Year be filled with joyous literary journeys and sweet acceptances.

September proved to be a banner month for sending out my work and for exploring new poetic styles.

Here are my September statistics:

Poetry: At the recommendation of poet Matthew Lippman, I began to follow the blog of Trish Hopkinson. She wrote about a call for poems that started with “If I” for Silver Birch Press. I took a poem I had that asked “What If?” and modified it. I submitted and received an acceptance within the hour. Silver Birch Press posted the poem on October 1, 2016. In September I submitted to 16 journals (Baltimore Review, Agni, Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Redivider, Stillwater Review, Green Mountains Review, Silver Birch Press, Lascaux Review, Third Coast,  Phoebe, A Public Space, Rust + Moth, Third Wednesday, Hermeneutic Chaos, and Harpur Palate) and received two acceptances (Silver Birch Press and Rose Red Review) and two rejections (The Common and New England Review).

Academic journal articles: “No Stone Unturned: Newark’s Grove Street Cemetery” is undergoing peer review by New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. My Northeast Modern Language Association proposal was accepted for the roundtable on Literature and the First-year Experience at the March 2017 conference.

Looking ahead, I’m curious to see how a modified submission strategy by the numbers might increase acceptances. Stay tuned!

Question 4U: How is your writing going? Have you determined any specific submission strategies?



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