2018-06-06 / Columns

Talented local authors are filling the shelves with great books


Talented Jewish writers can be found around the world. This month, we look closer to home. We gathered recently to discuss fiction and non-fiction by authors with a local connection.

IRENE: Jake Tapper, CNN’s chief Washington correspondent, was raised in Queen Village in Philadelphia and is a 1987 graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy. Readers who enjoy novels where history, politics, and intrigue intersect will want to take a look at his debut novel, “The Hellfire Club,” which takes place in 1954 Washington, DC. Charlie Marder is a new congressman described by Tapper as reminiscent of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”—full of passion and idealism. An Eisenhower Republican, he begins with good intentions, but loses his way and becomes entangled in murky politics.

MINNA: Another Akiba graduate, Mitch Albom, who was raised in Oaklyn, NJ, and had his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom, has a new book coming out this fall. “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven” is a follow-up to Albom’s bestselling 2003 book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” The new book continues the stories of Eddie the maintenance man and Annie the young girl whose life he saves while losing his own. “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” was adapted into a 2004 TV movie, as was “Have a Little Faith” (2009), which featured local rabbi Albert Lewis (z”l) as a main character.

AMY: Since her 2001 debut novel “Good In Bed,” Jennifer Weiner has written many more bestsellers. Her 2002 novel “In Her Shoes” was made into a major motion picture. Weiner has also written a memoir, “Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing.” In her memoir, she discusses some of the life experiences and personal beliefs that have found their way into her novels. Weiner shares the pain of being a child who doesn’t fit in. Though she graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, she did not feel “summa;” she felt inadequate, mainly due to being overweight. Struggles with appearance, especially weight, are present in her stories as in her life. Additional challenges in her life came in the form of her physician father’s abandonment of the family and eventual death from a drug overdose, and her mother at age 55 coming out as a lesbian. Weiner rejects being pigeonholed as a “chick lit” writer, advocating strongly for all women to be listened to and to have their stories heard.

IRENE: Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz is the director of the Jewish Publication Society, the rabbi of Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia, NJ, and well known to many of us here in South Jersey as a former rabbi of Cong. M’kor Shalom. “Path of the Prophets: The Ethics Driven Life” is an illuminating rediscovery of the biblical prophets that shines a light on the relevancy of their message for us today. The men and woman of the Bible are brought to life in a first-person retelling of their stories. Rabbi Schwartz brings enlightening context and analysis to the tales of 18 biblical heroes while considering how their ethical tales can impact each of us today.

MINNA: “You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn” by Wendy Lesser is about a Philadelphian, not written by one. The architect Louis Kahn emigrated from Estonia to Philadelphia at age five in 1906 and worked there until his death in 1974. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Kahn also taught there beginning in 1957. The author won the Marfield Prize, also known as the National Award for Arts Writing, for this biography.

IRENE: “The Whole Spiel: Funny Essays About Digital Nudniks, Seder Selfies and Chicken Soup Memories” is a collection of humorous observations about modern life through a Jewish lens. Written by the locally based Word Mavens (www.thewordmavens.com), Joyce Eisenberg and Ellen Scolnic, these 34 essays have readers laughing out loud. We can rummage through our pasts as we visit family members, holidays and family occasions that recall bubbe, chutzpah, shnorrers, and even a modern look at JDate and the nebbish. The Word Mavens weigh in on such important conflicts as the rugelach versus the shnecken. The introduction provides a mini-history of Yiddish, and there is a glossary, with each word used in the text clearly defined.

MINNA: “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious” by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook is the follow-up to the authors’ hugely popular first cookbook, “Zahav” (2016). This new book, which will be out in the fall, focuses on the simple, often hand-held food of the Israeli people adapted for home cooks from recipes used in market stalls, at weddings, and in small eateries all over Israel. The authors are co-founders of a restaurant group that includes Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, and Federal Donuts, in addition to Zahav.

For more information, contact us: Irene Afek at the Sanders Memorial Library of the Katz JCC (iafek@jfedsnj.org) and Cong. M’kor Shalom ( library@mkorshalom.org); Minna Siegel at Temple Beth Sholom(msiegel@tbsonline.org); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). 

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