Literary Offerings into the World | May 2017 Report

The spring semester is now over and I can return to writing!

Poetry: 2 submissions (Foundry and Cimarron Review), and 3 rejections to report (Ilanot Review, Green Mountains Review, Manhattanville Review).

Fiction: Continuing work on my Prague story. Rejection of a flash fiction piece by Copperfield Review.

Creative Nonfiction: I am actively sending out five essays. In May I submitted to the following: Punctuate, Front Porch, Origins, Malahat Review, Threepenny Review, The Sun, Amaranth Review, Yemassee Review, The Puritan, Paris Review, Lascaux Review, American Scholar, Lilith, Gettysburg Review, Missouri Review,  New England Review, and Jewish Literary Journal. That’s 17 subs in total. But now that the semester has ended, many journals have temporarily closed until the end of summer or start of the fall semester. Two fast rejections came from Threepenny Review and The Sun.

My pedagogy piece, “Stick Figures in Action: Teaching Revision through Storyboarding,” has just been published by Whale Road Review.

Academic: Acceptance of my first peer-reviewed journal article, “No Stone Unturned: Grove Street’s Jewish Cemetery,” in New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal. The article is slated for Summer 2017 publication. This cemetery is where my great-grandparents are buried and was the subject of my final project in my graduate Historical Preservation class in Fall 2015.

Picture Books: I need to work on revisions for at least two mss., but I’ve not done anything.

Other news: I’ve been accepted into the National Yiddish Book Center’s Tent Program for Jewish Children’s Writers in August in Amherst, Massachusetts. I’ll be workshopping a middle-grade something, either a biography or historical novel in verse.

Upcoming June 2017 activities: Highlights Novels in Verse Workshop, presentation about Holocaust kidlit (and the debut of my new website and database) at the annual Association of Jewish Libraries conference.

Question 4U: What has your activity been like?

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Commemorating the Tragedy of the MS St. Louis, 1939

Tablet Magazine recently reported that Jewish communities throughout the United States plan to hold vigils to commemorate the MS St. Louis today, June 6.

On this day in 1939, the luxury liner’s captain, Gustav Schroeder, received orders from his superiors at the Hamburg-Amerika shipping line to return with his nearly 1,000 German-Jewish refugee passengers to Germany. Since May 27, the St. Louis had been making headlines. After anchoring at its destination in Havana harbor, its passengers were not allowed to disembark. Distress messages were sent all over the world from the radio room. No one seemed to want to help this group of refugees, not even the United States as recorded conversations between Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau and Secretary of State Cordell Hull revealed.

Hans Fisher, one of the surviving passengers I interviewed in 2010, thought for sure that President Roosevelt would take care of them. He thought this when Cuban police in motorboats escorted the ship back into international waters and he and his friend, Wolfie, returned to their checkers game on deck. He thought this when his father, who had arrived earlier in Havana, was prohibited from visiting his family on board. He could only wave to them from a skiff.

Through the efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, safe haven for the passengers was negotiated with four countries: Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Great Britain. For three-quarters of the passengers, their freedom was short-lived as Nazi Germany occupied the countries that accepted them. Martin Goldsmith, for example, wrote a stunning memoir about his search to uncover the fate of his grandfather and uncle who had been aboard.

Refugees continue to struggle as the news reminds us daily. As Tablet reports, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) urged Jewish communities to show solidarity with refugees by staging vigils. As one survivor told me, “We have learned that we cannot stand by idly and watch people being bullied, harassed, and punished for no reason.”

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Jewish Traveler’s Notebook | Gomez Mill House, Marlboro, NY

This post debuts a new series and ad hoc feature, the Jewish Traveler’s Notebook. From time to time, I’ll share my experiences at museums and other spots of Jewish interest.

Since reading Deborah Prinz’s On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights, 2012), I’ve wanted to visit the Gomez Mill House, North America’s oldest Jewish dwelling, about 60 miles north of Manhattan in the Newburgh area. The building was established in 1714 by Luis Moses Gomez, who came to New York in 1703. He received an Act of Denization from Queen Anne of England two years later, which granted him certain rights to conduct business and live within the Colonies without giving an oath of allegiance to the Church of England. He became a leading businessman in New York, led the drive to found the Mill House Synagogue (the first synagogue of Shearith Israel), and established this trading post along the Hudson on 6500 acres of land. He and his family never lived there, although he did stay overnight. The Gomez family remained in possession until 1772.

Five other families—those of patriot Wolfert Ackert, gentleman farmer Edward Armstrong, artisan Dard Hunter, social activist Martha Gruening, and preservationist Mildred Starin—made their homes in this dwelling and expanded it until the Gomez Foundation purchased Mill House in 1984.

Items of Jewish interest within the house/museum include a handwritten version of Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” a grandfather clocked that once belonged to her great-grandfather, merchant and patriot Simon Nathan, Gomez’s Act of Denization document, a 1930s Sephardic genealogy, and a chanukkiah.

The Gomez family, according to Prinz, brought chocolate manufacturing to the New World from Bayonne, France (after being forced out of Spain by the Inquisition). But no chocolate was made at the Mill House. Instead, that was done in lower Manhattan.

The tour, which lasts about 90 minutes, starts with a brief video that highlights the evolution of the property. A friendly and knowledgeable tour guide then leads the group through each room of the house. The kitchen remains colonial if you can overlook the modern sink, stove/oven, and refrigerator.

The museum offers visitors glimpses into a variety of time periods based on who owned the house. Upstairs rooms chronicle the Armstrongs and Martha Gruening.

Outdoors, two of the grist mill wheels have been embedded in the walkway and the mill building stands alone. The grounds are beautiful and bucolic and the tour is worth the trip.

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Author’s Notebook | The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland by Marisa Scheinfeld

I came across mention of The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland (Cornell University Press, 2017) on the website of the American Historical Association. Since my family spent numerous summers at hotels there that included the Granit, the Concord, the Fallsview and Nevele, and the Homowack, I had to reach out to photographer and author Marisa Scheinfeld. Here is the result of our interview:

Guest room, Tamarack Lodge
Courtesy Marisa Scheinfeld

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What drew you to document the Borscht Belt visually?
Marisa Scheinfeld (MS): I received some advice from a mentor who told me to “shoot what I know.” Those four words lit the fire inside of me that caused me to consider my roots, my hometown, and its history. This led into the beginning of the project where I used a technique called Re-photography, essentially a “now” and “then” view of the hotels and bungalows made by using a found postcard and going back to the same location and re-making the image again, with a time lapse in between the two images. I did this many times over and the technique acted like a treasure map of sorts—leading me to a specific hotel or bungalow site, but as I journeyed to them, I began to see scenes that caused me to deviate from the re-photographic project and make alternate photographs. It was then that the series evolved—and I realized there was much more of a story than the one I originally set out to tell.

Coffee shop, Grossinger’s
Courtesy Marisa Scheinfeld

TWM: What was your greatest challenge in taking these photos and assembling the book?
MS: I worked on this for over 5 years and amassed many photographs in the process, all made on film. A huge challenge was editing. The book has 129 photographs and I had to let go of many on the “cutting room floor.” Other challenges arose during the process of making the images—and those were the tenuous nature of these hotels and bungalow colonies, essentially ruins, including their instability, what I might encounter, whom I might encounter, getting permission (which was always varied and depended on a lot of forged connections, new connections, strangers, locals, and friends/family to help me out. In addition, I learned quickly, and early in the project that I could not do this alone. While I made every single photograph alone, I always needed someone to accompany me on the shoots because of the various situations, people, etc, I might have come across.

Bowling alley, Homowack Lodge
Courtesy Marisa Scheinfeld

TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction?
MS: Accomplishing what I set out to do from the start—make and publish a book of these photographs.

TWM: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
MS: Not really, but there are about three images in particular that I wished I would have not cut from the book. If we ever do a reprint, they are going in.

TWM: Will these photos show in a gallery or exhibition?
MS: Curated by Yeshiva University Museum and myself, The Borscht Belt: Revisiting the Remains of America’s Jewish Vacationland is available as a traveling exhibition. The exhibition is ready to install and exists of thirty-two (25” x 35” in size) custom framed images including a selection of rephotographic (now and then) diptych pieces and a large selection of Borscht Belt ephemera for display in a case. Ephemera items consist of various 2-D and 3-D objects from my own collection and include items such as postcards, brochures, menus, original photographs, ashtrays, photo viewers, pens, clothing items, and even soap. The exhibition is accompanied by three main text panels, docent materials and programming options. Overall, the exhibition can be easily tailored to each venue’s vision, size constraints, along with the curator or director’s selection. The exhibition has been on view at the Center for Jewish History, the Yiddish Book Center, the Gershman Y, and I am currently amid exhibition plans with the New York State Museum. In addition, all photographs from the series are for sale and are available in multiple sizes.



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Author’s Notebook | Choices by J.E. Laufer

J.E. Laufer

Last year, I spent several months interviewing refugees from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 on behalf of the American Hungarian Foundation. When I received news of J.E. Laufer’s account of her Jewish family’s escape, I was immediately intrigued. Following is The Whole Megillah interview with Choices author J.E. Laufer.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Why did you write and publish this book now?
J.E. Laufer (JEL): Two things prompted me to write this book. As they say, timing is everything! First my mom was turning 87 and I wanted to complete her story as a gift for her 90th birthday. She is a very sharp women and I wanted to make sure I was able to capture the fine details while she was still well. At the same time, I reconnected with the women who had helped my family at this very desperate time. She was 16 then and now a grandmother in her 70’s. She was willing to give me her part of the story as well.

TWM: Did anything surprise you in your research?
JEL: Yes, several things surprised me. I knew many Hungarians had fled at that time but I did not realize it was 200,000! I always thought that my dad was the one who had instigated the idea to leave and discovered that it was my mom. This made perfect sense, when she explained that none of her family had survived, so she was leaving no one behind. My dad had a brother and mother who were still alive and chose to remained in Hungary.

TWM: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book? The most satisfying?
JEL: The most challenging aspect was the actual day-to-day writing and the constant re-write. The emotional attachment was sometimes difficult since it was my family not just any family. I would often feel the pain of what they had gone through and after certain chapters, felt drained and need to take a break.

The most satisfying was learning so many critical details to this amazing story and of course, completing the task and seeing it in print!

TWM: Do you have a critique group? Does anyone serve as a reader for you?
JEL: No, I don’t have a critique group. My husband and several close friends, helped with a lot of the critiquing and editing. I am fortunate to have a cadre of friends who are readers and many of them teachers.

TWM: What led you to self publish vs. seeking a traditional publisher?
JEL: I have already successfully published several children’s books and I like the ability to manage the project. I created my own publishing company several years ago. I am a publisher.

TWM: Are you promoting this as young adult, adult, or both? Why?
JEL: I am promoting it as both. It is what I would call a 13 and up book. I feel that young adults will relate to several characters in the story, especially the 16 year old girl and the young soldier. The book is written in style, language and vocabulary that crosses this age group. This book is the right length and I believe, has enough action to keep all readers engaged.


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2017 Year of the Book | First Quarter Progress Report

I pledged 2017 as the Year of the Book. my year to sell a book manuscript. Now that the first quarter of the year has closed, here is my progress report:

Poetry: I entered my chapbook manuscript, Chicken Fat, into a Finishing Line Press contest. While it didn’t win or place, the publishers offered me publication. I’ve signed the contract, but I haven’t yet heard back about publication date or anything.

Creative Nonfiction: By taking an online class from Creative Nonfiction magazine, I’ve drafted one more chapter of my genealogical memoir, We Are Rock Candy: The Crystallization of a Jewish Family. I’ve signed up for another course and now have the opportunity to draft three more chapters (unless I decide to write something else).

I have another narrative nonfiction project with my agent and she’s been shopping that around. It went to an editorial committee last week and the committee would like to see the whole manuscript. That’s what I’ll be working on for the next few months.

Picture Books: I am working one-on-one with an outside editor on three picture book manuscripts. She’s reviewed the first one and I need to revise. I should hear back on the second one soon. I have one editor/publisher who is asking me for picture book manuscripts and I aim to work with her. Another editor from another house is also asking me for manuscripts, but I don’t think I have the right voice for that house.

Novel in Verse: I have a novel-in-verse manuscript awaiting revision. I am currently signed up to attend a Highlights workshop to continue that work.

Fiction: I have a YA novella that awaits revision. And today I heard from a publisher who, while rejecting my picture book manuscript, now wants me to write a historical fiction chapter book on the same subject. This is totally on speculation, but I’m willing to give it a shot in the name of Year of the Book.

Other projects: There’s at least one YA historical novel and a middle-grade biography that need revision. I have a new idea for a fun chapter book. My challenge has been finding the time to write and revise. My day-job status is likely in flux and until that resolves, I don’t know what my schedule will be.

I’ve given up on an academic book based on last year’s master’s thesis—for the moment.

Question 4U: How is your Year of the Book coming along? Please share!

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Literary Offerings into the World | April 2017 Report

During the academic semester, there’s a trend: I don’t write or send out that much material. I hope to remedy that after mid-May.

Note: Since Poetry Has Value no longer offers the fabulous guest posts I looked forward to reading each month, I’ve changed the name of The Whole Megillah‘s blog post series to Literary Offerings into the World.

Poetry: 1 submission (Ilanot Review), 1 acceptance (Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest Honorable Mention and publication in Paterson Literary Review), and 4 rejections to report (Bennington Review, Silver Birch Press, Passages North, Noctua).

I am currently teaching an adult school class in ekphrastic writing taking place at the Montclair Art Museum and wrote two new poems last week focusing on Native American artwork and American artists influenced by Matisse. I’m also writing new poems at the monthly poetry workshop at the Kearny Public Library.

Year of the Book: My poetry chapbook, Chicken Fat, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press. It’s targeted for August-September pre-sales and October publication.

Fiction: No activity, although I am working on a new short story that includes magical realism in Prague. No, it does not involve a Golem.

Creative Nonfiction: I am particularly excited about the essay I’ve sent to Agni, n+1, Orion, Image, J Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Salmagundi. I have another essay ready to offer and two in revision. I’ll be generating yet another in May for the online class I’m taking.

Picture Books: 1 rejection (Calkins Creek). I have four mss. now in revision.

Academic: No activity.

Question 4U: What has your activity been like?

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