Howard Jacobson and the escape from Jewish destiny

October 9, 2011

by Shana Rosenblatt Mauer

Now that his Booker Prize win has made him a best-selling author in the U.S., Howard Jacobson’s publisher is bringing out his older titles there. First to appear: The Mighty Walzer, about the coming-of-age of a typically self-denying Mancunian Jew.

The Mighty Walzer by Howard Jacobson. Bloomsbury, 388 pages, $16 ‏(Paperback‏). U.K.: Vintage, 400 pages, £9
The Finkler Question, by Howard Jacobson
Bloomsbury, 307 pages, $15 ‏(Paperback‏)

Howard Jacobson, a writer who has been well-known in his native England for nearly three decades, has enjoyed a growing international reputation since winning the Man Booker prize last fall for his latest novel, The Finkler Question. In the wake of Finkler’s success, an earlier Jacobson novel, The Mighty Walzer, from 1999, has now been published in the United States for the first time. ‏(Bloomsbury has also just released his 1998 No More Mr. Nice Guy in the U.S.‏)

Written largely in the Mancunian jargon of its setting and punctuated by emphatic Yiddish slang and sentiment, it is not hard to understand why the book had not previously been released to the American market. For the uninitiated, many passages, sentences and words have to be read more than once. Yet, that very quality is the novel’s greatest strength.

There is little plot development and action in The Mighty Walzer, but the tale of Oliver Walzer’s journey from early adolescence to late adulthood is narrated in a conversational style that is so authentic and engaging that the lack of narrative intrigue is irrelevant. Oliver’s first-person account of his life rings true with the cadence, tone and descriptive powers of a compelling, if not necessarily likable, character.

The novel begins in the late 1950s, when Oliver is a shy, pre-adolescent trying to make sense of his lower middle-class Jewish family − a family that is, paradoxically, voluble and retiring, close-knit and disconnected − and its array of psychologically uneven relatives, Jewish friends and acquaintances. In explaining the Walzer family’s disparate character, Oliver notes: “Grandiosity was in the family …. On my father’s side.” In contrast, his mother’s side “went in for reserve.” It is a constellation of opposites that confounds him throughout his life, though he remains ever attuned to the fragility and woes of his family and friends. He comprehends how hard it is to be his father, a man with a bombastic nature who is limited by his trying economic circumstances.

How can a man like Joel Walzer be the kind of husband and father that his family expects, Oliver asks, “when his head’s full of plans. And big disappointments.” He is likewise sensitive to his mother’s timorous sisters, whom his father christens the Shrinking Violets. “Let a moth come in through an open window on a summer’s night and beat its wings in a lampshade, and their lives hung in doubt before them. A thread finer than cobweb attached them to life.” Read the rest of this entry »

2011 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards

June 16, 2011

Congratulations to all the winners!

The writeup in The Canadian Jewish News on pages 1 and 18 can be found here, and a blog post on June 7, 2011 with pictures from the Awards ceremony can be found here.

2011 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards: Citations

FICTION Alison Pick, Far to Go Published by House of Anansi Press Inc.

The magic of good storytelling brings into sharp relief the steady deterioration of Jewish daily life in Czechoslovakia under the influence Nazism just before the onset of World War II in Allison Pick’s novel Far to Go. Woven into the historical setting of the Czech Jewish experience is an exploration of the relationship of a contemporary historian of the Holocaust to her subject, upon the discovery of a set of letters that bring the past to life. The Jury was impressed with the crisp and elegant writing, and the novel’s subtle probing of the inner life of both Jews and non-Jews as Nazi racial ideology takes hold. The double narrative – past and present – examines the ways that the stories we uncover and tell shape our lives, our values, our sense of meaningfulness and possibilities.

POLITICS & HISTORY Tarek Fatah, The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism Published by McClelland & Stewart

It took courage for Tarek Fatah to write The Jew is Not My Enemy. It also takes courage for its Jewish and non-Jewish readers to follow the history of Muslim hate towards the Jews as the political activist and broadcaster depicts it, and the harsh but hopeful conclusion that there is no black and white resolution. The Jury noted the diligent scholarly and journalistic research examining the historical, political and theological ideas. In the end the book is a personal history of a journey towards tolerance and reconciliation.

HOLOCAUST LITERATURE Robert Eli Rubinstein, An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life In Canada Published by Urim Publications

The author, a businessman and community leader in Toronto has written a remarkable memoir of the physical and spiritual rejuvenation of his parents, Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust, after the unspeakable horrors they had experienced. With most of their immediate families murdered and the Russians imposing a new tyranny in Hungary, they decided to leave. Early in 1946, they and a few of their surviving relatives escaped to Italy. There, in a Displaced Persons camp located on the grounds of a former psychiatric hospital near Turin, birthplace of the author, they found the healing conditions to revive their hope in the future and their commitment to their faith.

By a fortunate, almost accidental chance, that future led them to Toronto, where the Rubinsteins and their cousins became leading real estate developers and benefactors of the community. This work, however, is not just the record of a remarkable family’s survival in the Holocaust and re-establishment in Canada; it is above all a sensitive tribute by a loving son of the debt he feels to his parents for the character and values they have imbued in him by their actions and example. Beautifully expressed, this memoir is a wonderful contribution to the hitherto largely ignored area of Holocaust survivors’ re-establishment of their shattered lives.

BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life and Times Published by Random House Canada

A decade after his death at 71, Mordecai Richler has found the biographer he deserves. The jury declared that Charles Foran has written the definitive biography – generous, thoroughly researched, psychologically nuanced, highly readable. They lauded him for uncovering the demons that drove Richler to create. Foran shows how the novelist’s gritty early life in working-class Jewish Montreal and his experience as a child born of a poisoned marriage shaped his prickly personality, which remained unchanged throughout his life. Foran skillfully contrasts Richler, the tender father and husband, with the hard-drinking Richler who made people angry and uncomfortable. He reveals Richler as deeply moral, using his sharp wit to expose snobbery, hypocrisy, inauthenticity, lies, anti-Semitism, and cant of all kinds.

SCHOLARSHIP Harold Troper, The Defining Decade: Identity, Politics, and the Canadian Jewish Community in the 1960s Published by University of Toronto Press

While Jews were present in Canada almost from the birth of the country, their community always remained at the edge and separate from mainstream society. They were kept apart by internal and external contingencies. In the dramatic years after the Second World War, a new conscience emerged as the place Jews should occupy as individuals and as a community. In the 1960s, the blooming of the Jewish community reaches its maturity when it confronted and accepted inside dissident voices and fully engaged in the national community at all levels. Several events but mainly the Six Day war became moments of conscience when all members of the community took stand, realizing their place and role as Jews and as Canadian.

With great insight, Harold Troper offers us in The Defining Decade, a sensible analysis of the crucial years of transformation of the community, which parallels the one of the country. With great expertise and detailed documentation, he clearly exposes the many and deep changes and the dynamic of the process.

YOUTH LITERATURE Judie Oron, Cry of the Giraffe Published by Annick Press

Cry of the Giraffe is a powerful novel that skillfully achieves what characterizes the best of historical fiction: a seamless blending of the personal story of the main characters with the forces that alter the course of their lives. The story of young Wuditu is set against the ugly backdrop of government persecution of the Jews of Ethiopia, where they are demonized as a despised minority. The book provides an inside view of the daily lives of Ethiopia’s Jews, even offering a peek at their Passover customs and their schooling. Oron masterfully captures the drama of the Ethiopian story, tracing the difficult trek to the refugee camp in Sudan and the perilous situation of women left alone in a male-dominated world. The reader’s interest is gripped by the heroine’s courageous struggle, against unimaginable odds, to find her sister, protect herself, and flee to the Promised Land, “Yerusalem.” Cry of the Giraffe is a fitting celebration of the rescue of one family as we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Operation Solomon, the airlift of 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in May, 1991.

Political activist, broadcaster and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress wins 2011 Canadian Jewish Book Award

May 2, 2011

TORONTO, April 21, 2011 – Koffler Centre of the Arts announces that Tarek Fatah, political activist, broadcaster and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, has won the 2011 Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award in the Politics & History category.

The Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards is a program of the Koffler Centre of the Arts. The Awards ceremony takes place in Toronto on Monday, May 30 at 8 PM at the The Bram & Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge Street. This FREE event is open to the public and all are welcome.

Tarek Fatah’s critically acclaimed second book, The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism, debunks the anti-Jewish writings of Islamic literature and argues that hating Jews is against the essence of the Islamic spirit.

The Jew is not My Enemy is one of six winners of the 23rd annual awards. The panel of judges chose from a wide variety of submissions from books published in 2010 with significant Jewish content by Canadian authors in categories including Fiction, Biography & Memoir, and Youth Literature.

Other winners include Far to Go in the Fiction category by award winning Toronto-based author Alison Pick. Called “one of the best books of the year” by CBC Radio’s Shelagh Rogers, Pick’s novel is an epic historical novel tracing one family’s journey from Czechoslovakia to Canada during the Second World War. Mordecai: The Life and Times, Charles Foran’s definitive, detailed, intimate portrait of legendary Canadian author Mordecai Richler, has won in the Biography & Memoir category.

“The Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards honour important contributions to writing on Jewish-related subjects, stimulate publishing in Canada on Jewish subjects, and advance the careers of writers of Jewish themes and content,” says Lori Starr, Executive Director, Koffler Centre of the Arts and Vice President for Culture, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “The Koffler Centre of the Arts is thrilled to present these important awards which celebrate the very best in Canadian Jewish literature.”

“This year’s six award-winning books truly reflect the impact Jewish culture has had on all aspects of Canadian society,” adds writer Edward Trapunski, who chaired the distinguished judging panel that includes writers, academics, editors and experts in the literary field. This year’s jury members are Adam Fuerstenberg, Marjorie Gann, Judith Ghert, Alain Goldschläger, Sara Horowitz, Judy Stoffman, Edward Trapunski, and Judy Wolfe.

Full details on the event and all the winners are available at

The 2011 winners are:

Alison Pick, Far to Go Published by House of Anansi Press Inc.

Tarek Fatah, The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism Published by McClelland & Stewart

Robert Eli Rubinstein, An Italian Renaissance: Choosing Life In Canada
Published by Urim Publications

Charles Foran, Mordecai: The Life and Times Published by Random House Canada

Harold Troper, The Defining Decade: Identity, Politics, and the Canadian Jewish Community in the 1960s Published by University of Toronto Press

Judie Oron, Cry of the Giraffe Published by Annick Press

Read the rest of this entry »

Posturing versus real criticism

March 27, 2011

by Dow Marmur

Two weeks ago, I heard Marina Nemat speak at the Jerusalem International Book Fair. She and her family came to Canada some 20 years ago and settled in the GTA. In the hell that is her native Iran, she was imprisoned as a 16 year old for having an independent mind and held for two years in the notorious Evin jail. She has written two books about her life that have been translated into many languages, including Hebrew. She was in Jerusalem as the guest of her Israeli publishers.

When it became known that she planned to come to Israel, “all her broke lose on the Internet,” she said, because “North Americans urged me to boycott the event.” She refused. As a victim of oppression and a survivor of unspeakable suffering, she has a lot in common with many Israelis and Palestinians. She came as a witness.

Nemat was in good company. The star of the book fair was the British novelist Ian McEwan, the recipient of the 2011 prestigious Jerusalem Prize for Literature awarded every two years to a foreign author with an international reputation.

The pressure on McEwan from British intellectuals to boycott the event was enormous. He, too, resisted and told his Jerusalem audience that he was happy and honoured to be there. He refused to yield not because he agrees with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza but because he respects its democracy. Similarly, the Italian author Umberto Eco had to resist much pressure but, like many other eminent authors, chose to come.

McEwan spoke with admiration about three of Israel’s most distinguished writers — Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman — “who love their country, and made sacrifices for it and have been troubled by the directions it has taken.” A couple of days earlier, McEwan accompanied Grossman to the weekly demonstration in East Jerusalem to protest provocative efforts by Jewish extremists to displace Palestinian residents.

As a tangible expression of solidarity and commitment, McEwan donated the $10,000 prize to Read the rest of this entry »

Jewish Book Awards Accepting Submissions

January 3, 2011

By: Ilan Mester

The 22nd annual Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Awards is accepting submissions for the 2011 awards, taking place on May 30, 2011. The Canadian Jewish Book Awards celebrates the best in Canadian writing related to Jewish subjects and themes.

Submissions must be written by Canadian citizens or residents and focus on Jewish-related subjects and/ or themes. Books must have been published between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2010, to be considered for the book awards. Applicants should submit four copies of books along with an entry form by Jan. 31, 2011.

A number of writers from around the country won awards last year, including Allan Levine (Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish People of Manitoba), David Sax (Save the Deli), Jeffrey Veidlinger (Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire), Goldie Sigal (Stingy Buzi and King Solomon), Michael R. Marrus (Some Measure of Justice: The Holocaust Era Restitution Campaign of the 1990s) and Robin McGrath (The Winterhouse). Read the rest of this entry »

J.I. Segel Awards Announced

December 6, 2010

The Jewish Public Library is pleased to announce the recipients of
the prestigious J.I. Segal Awards 2010 in eight categories on Jewish themes.

The winners are as follows:

Dr. Hirsch and Dora Rosenfeld Prize for Yiddish and Hebrew Literature:

Co-winner: Prof. David E. Fishman (editor) for Droshes un ksovim by
Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Ktav Publishing House, Inc.)

Co-winner: Boris Sandler for Shikhelekh Far Reytshl (Boris Sandler copyright).

Prize in English Fiction and Poetry on a Jewish Theme:

Rhea Tregebov for The Knife Sharpener’s Bell (Coteau Books).

Prize in English Non-Fiction on a Jewish Theme:

Jeffrey Veidlinger for Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian
Empire (Indiana University Press).

Prize in French Literature on a Jewish Theme:

Maurice Chalom for Va, Moshone (Leméac).

Prize in Translation of a Book on a Jewish Theme:

Moshe Dor for the Hebrew translation of Fly Off into the Strongest
Light: Selected Poems by Seymour Mayne (Keshev Publishing House).

Prize in Canadian Jewish Studies:

Co-winner: Esther Trépanier for Jewish Painters of Montreal:
Witnesses of Their Time 1930-1948 (Les Éditions de l’homme).

Co-winner: Allan Levine for Coming of Age: A History of the Jewish
People of Manitoba (Heartland Associates Inc.).

Yaacov Zipper Prize in Education:

Nira Friedman.

Michael Moskovitz Prize in Film on a Jewish Theme:

Garry Beitel for The “Socalled” Movie (Producers: reFrame Films and
The National Film Board of Canada).

The winners were honored at the 41st J.I. Segal Awards Gala on
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jewish Public
Library, 5151 Côte St-Catherine Road, Montreal.

The J.I. Segal Awards of the Jewish Public Library were established
in 1968 to honour and perpetuate the memory of the great Canadian
Yiddish poet J.I. Segal (1896-1954). The awards were developed to
encourage and reward creative works on Jewish themes and to recognize contributions in Jewish education. Past recipients of these biennial awards have included Leonard Cohen, Dora Wasserman, Gershon Hundert, Edeet Ravel, Miriam Waddington, David Homel, Chava Rosenfarb, Gerald Tulchinsky, Pierre Anctil and many others.

For more information on the Jewish Public Library’s J.I. Segal Awards 2010 see the Jewish Public Library’s homepage here.

ALA: I Love My Librarian Award Nominations Now Open

September 7, 2010

You can see the full press release here:

Nominations are being accepted through September 20, 2010 for this year’s I LOVE MY LIBRARIAN AWARD.

The award is open to MLS-holding librarians in the following categories:

* School library
* Public library – including synagogues and community centers whose libraries are open to the public, and
* College, community college and university libraries.

The Promotional Tools page includes sample press releases, logos, badges and flyers to distribute to your patrons.

When you make them available in your library, your patrons have the chance to recognize the work you do.

ALA will select up to ten winners; what a great opportunity to create some buzz in our communities and even nationally, for AJL and for all the work you do to promote Jewish books, scholarship and reading.

Good luck!

From the Association of Jewish Libraries Blog

The original article may be found here.

Bibliography and Reference Awards Announced

March 19, 2010

by Rachel Leket-Mor

I am pleased to announce the Judaica Reference and Bibliography Awards for 2010, given yearly by the Research Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections Division of AJL.
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Call for Submissions: J.I. Segal Awards 2010

March 14, 2010

Calls for Submissions from authors, educators and filmmakers for the J.I. Segal Awards 2010 competition in eight categories on Jewish themes including literature, translation, education and film. Prizes will be awarded in a Gala on November 10, 2010 at the Jewish Public Library. The application deadline is April 30, 2010. The call for submissions, with prize categories and contact information, is available here. Those interested may also contact the Jewish Public Library, 5151 Côte Ste-Catherine Road, Montreal. For more information, call (514) 345-2627 ext. 3017 or visit The Jewish Public Library’s website.

The J.I. Segal Awards of the Jewish Public Library are made possible by the J.I. Segal Cultural Foundation, established 42 years ago by the late Dr. Hirsh and Dvora Rosenfeld to honour and perpetuate the memory of the great Yiddish-Canadian poet J.I. Segal (1896–1954) and to foster Jewish cultural creativity in Canada. These prestigious awards are presented every two years to encourage and reward creative works on Jewish themes and to recognize contributions in Jewish education, both formal and informal. The competition is open to Canadians for works in English and French, and for North Americans in Hebrew, and worldwide in Yiddish. For more information, contact (514) 345-2627 ext. 3017 or The Jewish Public Library.

Past award winners include Irving Layton, Naim Kattan, Adele Wiseman, Prof. Ruth Wisse, Yehoshua Rabinovitch, Yehuda Elberg, Yaacov Zipper, Dora Wasserman, David Homel, Rabbi Leib Kramer, Professor Gershon Hundert, Edeet Ravel, Leonard Cohen and Ina Fichman.

Award to Teaneck Man for Anti-Stalinist Book

February 24, 2010
Why Didn't Stalin Murder All the Jews?

Why Didn't Stalin Murder All the Jews?

by Abigail Klein Leichman

Alexander Rashin of Teaneck has received Prakhin International Literary Foundation’s annual award for his 2003 book Why Didn’t Stalin Murder All the Jews? The award was presented on Jan. 31 by Dr. Boris Prakhin of Paramus at the foundation’s third annual award ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan.

Rashin, a computational biophysicist, was born in Kharkhov, Ukraine. He retains unpleasant childhood memories of life in the waning years of Josef Stalin’s reign.

“I was a little kid playing with my friends in the street, and a Russian neighbor shouted at us, ‘Pity that Hitler had not killed you all!’” Rashin related in his speech at the award ceremony. His family shared a two-family house with the local head of the MGB, the pre-KGB security agency that in 1938 had helped the Gestapo formulate plans for concentration camps and mass exterminations.
Read the rest of this entry »